A medical student’s volunteering experiencing in ED during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 sent the world into a lockdown of unprecedented margin. It also caused the deaths of numerous people, doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare people. Some others died too. A lot of people (including Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson) recovered after testing positive for the virus.

We will now examine a student’s experience of volunteering. The student graduated from a top-notch Caribbean medical university school of medicine and volunteered at a renowned hospital in Miami, Florida.

The student revealed their experience of volunteering at the emergency department in the said hospital in Miami. The experience was a sort of a wakeup call for average students. The skills learned during that experience were both critical and essential.

At times, the egoistic nature of top-ranking medical school application professionals often makes the role of medical students as volunteers a thankless one. Such is not so because the role these volunteers have is (and should be) a thankful one.

The role these volunteers have can be heroic can be a bit away from heroic and may not be as heroic as perceived. But they learn essential clinical skills that are key to their success in medicine. A lot of students volunteering during COVID-19 did learn them in a harsh way but learned them for sure.

In a harsh way, it means that situations at hospitals were critical so students had no time to spare and gave everything they had for the patients’ sake.

In what way did the emergency department (ED) change in nature during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The main change medical students and professionals can observe in the emergency department (other than the surgical masks) is the concept of pre-triage. This takes place in a separate room or structure within the hospital’s compound ensuring the safety of patients and healthcare workers (HCW).

The triage system – what is it?

In emergency medicine, Triage is an objective system that determines who needs assistance first. A lot of countries use their own triage system but the most commonly used one in Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean.

Generally, the system gives each patient a score from 1 (extremely life-threatening) to 5 (not life-threatening). This is based on the current symptoms patients have. The idea is to determine which patients need care at their earliest.


Pre-triage is a step before the normal triage. Here, doctors and other frontline healthcare folks try screening for people who are potentially infectious and even infected. They take temperature, oxygen saturation, and ask them about a series of symptoms. This helps determine if a person is suffering from COVID-19.

Those who have infectious symptoms of the COVID-19 are sent to a special ward (section) of the healthcare facility/hospital that keeps them in quarantine. Such zones are often referred to as ‘red zones’ at times.

These zones have COVID-19 patients and those that are not infected but have symptoms/are suspected of being infected. The staff who tend to them always wear full protective gear and are working round the clock.

Normal Triage

The patients who have no infectious symptoms of the COVID-19 are sent to the normal triage. They are questioned specifically about their symptoms so it can be determined who needs help first.

Steps of the Triage

Here, the patient must be triaged within 10 minutes of arrival to the hospital’s emergency department. It is important that such is done. During the triage process, the hospital performed the following tasks:

  • Patient identification.
  • Having a quick look at the patient. Is the patient alive or nearing death? Is the patient normal? This helps them determine to continue towards treatment and admission, or not.
  • Gathering patient vital signs: heartbeat rate, blood pressure, saturation of oxygen, rate of respiration, and temperature.
  • Determining if the patient is suffering from any pain as well as measuring the severity of pain from 1 to 10.
  • Asking about allergies to certain medications.
  • Taking a brief noting of past medical history (key facts must be noted).

This survey is meant to be a quick survey to see how the patient is doing, what is their condition, and whether or not should they be treated according to the imminent danger they are in. Based on the facts learned, the healthcare professionals and doctors can give either more or less objective triage level that tells the staff which patient should get the most attention.

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