Janet Chapman has been in the hospital with her mother before. Sitting at her bedside in a Baptist-Memphis emergency evaluation room, Chapman waited again for her mother's test results and word from her doctor. But before the physician appeared, Chapman was visited by one of the hospital's emergency room volunteers as part of the Experience Critical program.
The program, which employs volunteers as additional ER support staff and patient liaisons, has been so successful that Baptist Hospital has packaged the program for nationwide marketing.
"The Experience Critical Volunteer Corps grew out of a program in New York," said Baptist chief nursing officer and vice president Beverly Jordan. "We took the program and put a different spin on it. What we do want is satisfied patients who feel confident and comfortable, and we want the experience of our volunteers to be happy."
The program was instituted a year ago as the final part of a three-phase plan dealing with emergency room patients in the tri-state area. Patient research in this region, as well as nationwide, revealed the public's misunderstanding and discomfort with hospital emergency rooms. Parts one and two of the plan educated residents and patients on the purpose of ERs. Phase two also educated the ER staff on easing patient and family anxiety.
"With the Experience Critical piece, our plan was also to expose 18- to 25-year-olds to health-care in hopes that they may see this as a potential career. The response has been tremendous," said Jordan.
The volunteer corps of the program is geared toward students enrolled or interested in some type of medical curriculum, who are able to keep pace with the busy ER environment. Each branch of the Baptist Hospital system has its own set of volunteers who work and manage their own shift schedules throughout the day. Volunteers participate in three separate training sessions before beginning their first shifts.
The 40 Baptist-Memphis volunteers, like 19-year-old Devin Little, are introduced to the emergency room by head nurse Trais Hutcherson. Little, a general-nursing student, said her fascination with hospitals was fostered by her mother -- a nurse at Methodist Hospital -- and television's hospital drama, ER.
"I don't really know what to expect, but I know I'll be helping people," said Little prior to her first shift. She signed on to work from 3 to 10 p.m. each Thursday.
While some of the volunteers may be medical students or have prior hospital experience, they are not allowed to treat to patients. "We allow the volunteers to do customer-service activities and see to patients' well-being: providing water, ice, and blankets, running items to the lab, assisting with patient transport, and communicating basic messages to patients' families in the waiting room," said nurse manager Brenda Ford.
In return for their services, volunteers receive internship or community service credits from their respective colleges. For some volunteers, serving others is enough.
Alongside the twentysomethings, Karen Woosley stands out. Woosley is one of Baptist-Collierville's 12 volunteers. At 39, Woosley is in her fourth career. A former international business employee in St. Joseph Hospital's insurance department, Woosley never forgot her love for medical centers. Between that career and her current enrollment at Baptist's nursing school, Woosley took a 10-year hiatus to raise two children and teach preschool.
"This is a perfect experience for me," she said. "I try to treat the patients the way I would want to be treated if I were in their situation, and the patients are so receptive to that."
At the Collierville hospital, the pace is slower and more to the liking of volunteers like Woosley. The ER consists of only a few examination rooms compared to the bustle in Baptist's East Memphis location. To make her shift run smoother, Woosley has typed index cards to keep track of each patient. The cards document patient requests, whether they may receive fluids, and whether or not the volunteer may enter the room.
"Each Saturday, when I get ready to come here, my kids say, 'Mommy's going to the hospital to be a doctor,'" said Woosley. "I have to tell them that I'm not a nurse just yet, but working with these patients has let me know that my heart is in the right place."