Volunteering in Pediatrics

Hi. Just wondering if anyone has volunteered in Pediatrics? I’ve been doing it for three weeks now and while the kids are great, the nurses are really unfriendly. It’s really slow, so it’s not like I’m getting in their way. I even offered to change diapers! The strangest thing is that when I try to introduce myself, this is how the conversation goes:
Me: Hi, I’m Gina. I’m one of the new vounteers."
Nurse (as she’s walking away from me): Hi.
No introduction, nothing. I could totally understand this if they were super busy, but they’re sitting around reading magazines! And then yesterday, a nurse came in and said, “Are you new here?” And I said, “No, I’m Gina, I’m one of the volunteers.” She then proceeds to talk to the other nurses for like five minutes before turning back to me and saying “Oh, well it’s nice to meet you anyway.” I’ve held off on my normal curiosity questions because I don’t want to annoy them more. Am I doing something wrong? Is this some sort of weird initiation? Anyone else had this kind of experience? When I volunteered in the SICU, the nurses were all really friendly and seemed to be happy I was there to help. I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s something about Pediatrics… I’m having a similar experience. Let me know if it eases up… I will do the same.

Maybe they’ve had volunteers come and go, or something. You can always take the easy road and just bring a box of candy or cookies to work for the nurses. Can’t hurt, might help.

Hi, Gina,
How’s it going?
This sounds like Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees; you need to hang out with them for about 20 years before they accept you!
What’s your job description? Sounds like some of the nurses haven’t signed on to having a volunteer assisting them.
I think I told you this story at the conference. I was booted from a volunteer position at a Boston hospital after some nurse complained about me. The volunteer services person could give me no explanation except that I was seen “hanging around the PACU too much”. Of course, I was in the PACU a lot–because the nurses kept ordering me to bring a patient her pocketbook, escort relatives to a patient’s bedside, convey messages to the waiting room, etc. They offered me another spot but I’ve signed up to volunteer at another big hospital. Maybe I’ll work in both hospitals in the end. Whatever. I’m just there to learn, after all.
Some nurses are weird. I really admired 90% of the nurses that I dealt with in the PACU. The circulating nurse was really sweet and would go out of her way to fill me in on what was happening in the OR, and others were very helpful and forthcoming. Just one or two of them were extremely grumpy and uncooperative with me and seemed to actively dislike me for no reason that I could discern. Don’t like pre-meds, perhaps. Who knows? I just stayed calm and professional toward them and tried to give them no reason to dislike me.
Someone said to me, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be a doctor; you’ll be their boss some day.” He just doesn’t get it. That’s the kind of attitude that perpetuates this crap. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, no matter what their educational status or title. It seems to me that some hospitals are stuck in some weird time warp, sort of a medieval society with its castes, serfs, lords, etc.
Anyway, I hope things work out for you in pediatrics, or else perhaps you can find a more amenable group to work with. After all, you are donating your time.
Well back to memorizing ions. Boy can I procrastinate!

Perhaps the pedi nurses are simply burnout due to a plethora of things that can cause some nurses to seem cold. My wife was a pedi nurse for 3 years at our local city hospital and she hated going to work. She loved being a nurse and working with kids, but what it came down to was the low staffing and lack of respect that was given. She finally had to quit and went to work in a pedi group practice. She’s a happy camper now! Don’t count them out just yet. It may take you some time and patience before they trust and/or accept you into their clique.

Okay, here’s this week’s update. Yesterday I actually met a friendly nurse. When she introduced herself, I almost fell on the floor! She was playing with the babies, talking to me. I wonder if the other nurses are just burned out. Two of them asked me who I was and if they could help me, like I was a stranger they had never seen before. And they’ve been working at least two other times I’ve been there. So, my question is, if they didn’t know I was a volunteer, why were they letting me walk around the ward, hold babies, etc? What if I had walked off with one of the kids?!
Another frustration I have is that I’m not learning anything. The nurses won’t let me help and don’t seem really receptive to my questions. Is it unreasonable of me to expect to learn a little bit about medical stuff when I’m volunteering? That’s what I loved about the SICU. I learned how to do vitals, check blood sugar, move patients. I figure I’ll definately stick it out until the end of this month, but I’m not sure after that. Suggestions? I’m going to try to bring in cookies next week, so we’ll see if that helps (Thanks for the idea, Denise).

As a pedi nurse for 18 years, I can tell you working in a hospital as a nurse is a horse of a different color. I do home health now, but when I was in the hospitals, dumping on ANY person “less” than you seemed the norm. And what Chris said is very true, nurses still get little respect from the administration, patients and families, and usually are the first to get blamed if something goes wrong. Hence, a possible reason those nurses are hesitate to let a “mere volunteer” do much of anything. Though its off subject, I have to add, I wonder if hospital administration will EVER connect the way nurses are treated with the continuing nursing shortage? No, not likely, they’ll just do what they have done for the last 30 years, and import nurses from other countries!!

I’ve definitely encountered this phenamenon in volunteering in Peds. I think it might have something to do with the fact of the population - sick children. I think a lot of times, the nurses can take almost like a mother bear - a little territorial but mostly protective of the little ones - because they really do become a surrogate family of sorts, especially in intensive and critical care units where the little patients tend to have longer stays.

Pediatric nurses are going to be exceptionally protective of their patients, and it doesn’t surprise me that they wouldn’t warm up to a new volunteer. Your story does make me wonder if they WANT volunteers, or if they see having a volunteer around as just that much more work.
As a one-week-old intern, I am keenly aware that my constant requests for information (“where do orders go on this floor? how can I get ahold of someone in radiology? can you tell me who is Mrs. Smith’s nurse? Oh, is that the nursing assignment chart over there?”) are disrupting other people’s work. They would definitely get along fine without me there.
If the nurses on this floor feel that way, you are going to hvae to go out of your way to make it clear that you are just really glad to be there and that you are so happy that they’re willing to share their work environment with you, even if they are not being very welcoming.
Also I would not necessarily expect to learn “medical stuff” as a volunteer. If I were a nurse (which I used to be) I certainly would not appreciate someone having that expectation, because I would see it as one more thing added to MY job description.
All you can do is maintain your genuine interest in, first of all, the kids who are patients there, and secondly, in the work being done in that setting. Try to be thick-skinned: it’s not about you.
There’s another thread somewhere in the forums about the whole “nurses vs. doctors” thing. If this is a particularly bitter group of nurses, and they KNOW that you are doing this volunteering as part of your quest to becoming a doctor, that could be part of the problem. They want to hear that you are genuinely interested in “their kids” and in what they are doing. (and yes, I know you are, but when the med school thing comes up too, the truly altruistic portion of your intention is easily lost on the cynical)

This is a really interesting post. It’s enjoyable reading about other people’s experiences in the volunteering area.
I began volunteering a few weeks ago for the first time in a hospital. Coming out of the education field, and having worked with several nurses and doctors as parents, I was expecting something completely different than I witnessed. I volunteer in the “escort services” (hmm, how did they come up with that name??) so am able to go around to most areas of the hospital. The nurses have been fantastic everywhere except in the OB unit. Many of these seem to be very impersonal, almost like they have a “block on their shoulder” or something. It is very peculiar.
What is even more interesting to me, though, is observing the interpersonal skills of the doctors. In three weeks time, I have yet to see a doctor communicating with anyone other than another physician in any kind of small talk. It’s as though they are “too good” for the others in the hospital, including patients and visitors. As I walk through the hallways, I still haven’t seen a doctor extend a simple “Hi” or smile to anyone other than another physician. Maybe it’s just that I’m too used to the “Minnesota nice” thing or something and that people don’t do that around here. (I ruled that out since it appears to only be the doctors who have a problem with it, but who knows?)
It really bothers me that anyone in a hospital situation would act in such a manner. I talked to my wife after observing this and told her that if I ever acted that way that she needed to yank me down off the high horse, pop my head, and kick my butt. I’m happy to tell you all that she agreed…maybe a little too easily. hmmmm…
I’m hoping that my life experiences and the road I am taking to becoming a doctor will keep me grounded. And I try my best everytime I see the OB nurses to leave them a little happier than I encountered them…heck, if it doesn’t do anything for them, at least I feel a little better. I hope it gets better for you!

I think the cookies thing will help in time.
I’m a nurse in the OR. Been there for almost 13 yrs. We do not have volunteers in the OR. What we do have since it is a teaching hospital and a Level 1 trauma center are med students, residents, attendings, nursing students, surgical tech students, dental students (for the oral surgery service) that rotate through there, they come and they go. I work there, day in and day out, through codes, fubars in the OR suites, bomb threats (yes, this happened 2 days after 9/11), an almost electrical fire with laproscopic equipment during a nissen fundiplication ( wrapping the top part of the stomach aroung the esophagus to prevent reflux), liquid nitrogen spraying all over the OR when we first started cryo procedures, organ procurements on pt.'s from 12 to late 50’s, liver transplants, ruptured triple A’s and traumas of all kinds, etc., anyway me and my buds (other OR nurses and excellent scrub techs) have weathered a lot and continue to do so with some but not a lot of appreciation. I personally have explained surgical procedures (on my level) to med students in the OR and when I would say Hi! to them outside of the OR (yes, my mask would be down), but I’d re-introduce myself as the nurse who just spent 5 min. out of my time to explain about a procedure, they would look at me like I was invisible or even just walk away, no thanks for the info, just talk to each other and walk away!
Surgical residents have even asked me how does the Attending want the main incision on the abd. cut,to the right or left of the umbilicus! (I’d page the attending for the ans., that is not in my scope of practice, duh-obviously, but they would expect me to give them an answer and be pissy if I didn’t). At the end of their rotations, the nursing students and surgical techs would usually give us a nice Thank you card with all of their signatures and some type of goodies that would feed at least the first 2 shifts and we appreciated that, the med students, residents, nothing. The attendings if they are feeling generous at the end of the year during the holidays (and you were not on their designated service) give carmalized popcorn in Christmas tins in the nursing lounge ,we also occasionally get their food leftovers sent up to the OR from some conference they had. I could go on and on.
I’m sorry if this sounds like sour grapes (I’ve met and worked with some very fine and “human” docs who inspired me, they were the exception, however), but after years of this treatment and like Larry posted about the attendings mainly talking to each other and acting like we’re all invisible unless they want something from you (like “I left my pager in the OR can you get it for me or I can’t find my loops, will you check the OR rooms and put them back in room 14, thanks”) After years of this you get hardened, you don’t expect anything, you don’t care who or what the new face is in your dept. because they will probably treat you the same way.
So give it time, be genuine (heck I’m sure you are). Also remember, some nurses might be jealous or envious of you. They may wish they could pursue something different in life but financially just can’t.
So this is just my .00002cents worth.

Holy mackerel, Coolmore1112. That’s not sour grapes; that’s your story and it deserves to be told. In fact I wish you would write a book about it and maybe it’ll help change things. All I can say is, I’m so against this. How can someone be a healer and have such contempt for people around them, good hardworking people?
In my bit of volunteering at a hospital so far, I’ve noticed some of that weird attitude oozing off some med school/resident creatures; got introduced to one of them by a senior volunteer and he just sneered at me like I was beneath his notice. I guess you don’t need social skills to get into medical school.
I’m coming from such a different environment, the freewheeling egalitarian upwardly mobile high tech world where the person you offend today may end up as your boss tomorrow, or as an entrepreneur next year with job openings, or just someone you need a good reference from for your next job. Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of weird geeks, crazy managers, and inconsiderate awful behavior there too but it’s not institutionalized the way it seems to be in big hospitals.
I am hoping to go into the medical field in some capacity but I do not plan to lose my humanity in the process. Anyway, my heart goes out to you and I’m gonna remember what you said every time I see a nurse!

I think it’s really important to keep all of this in mind.
Many of us, being somewhat older than the norm, have more experience dealing with people that some of the “fresher” students and physicians. Some of us are nurses, some have done the cubicle dance, some are lawyers etc… we are all coming at it from a different dynamic… and I think that really works to our advantage.
I also think that many of us have dealt with working a job where we’ve been, well, s**t on… for lack of a better term… and we know how it feels. Just like many of us have been patients, and we know, to an extent, what it feels like to be one. And it’s extremely important for us to remember that as we go about our days and through our training.
Nurses are a special breed of people. They’re underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked (sounds a lot like teachers, huh?).
I think it’s important to show a little appreciation… be a little grateful. For everyone from the pickup window person at the fast-food joint to whomever…they all play a vital role in our lives, and we should treat them as such.
my early morning ramblings…

Thanks for all the feedback! I definately respect the nurses and that’s why I want to talk to them, learn from them. Some of the nurses in the SICU knew a lot more about the patients than the doctors. I remember one conversation in which a nurse was complaining because a doctor had prescribed something and she knew it wasn’t going to work, was actually going to make the patient worse. And yet, she had no choice but to follow orders. And she turned out to be right. It takes a really strong person to be able to put up with that day in and day out the way they do. That’s one of the reasons I try to talk to the nurses when I’m volunteering. I want to know what they deal with, how doctors could make their jobs better, how not to act. I realize they are a very important part of the medical team and need to be respected.
On another note, how do we as future physicians, remember these early experiences and not get a big head? It seems so easy to talk about how we’re not going to act like that, but look how many doctors do. What happens in between starting med school and becoming a doctor that makes that sort of behavior acceptable? Are the snobby doctors the exception? How do we keep our concern for patients in the face of 80+ hour weeks? Is this more something that traditional premeds struggle with since they haven’t been as exposed to the world as we have?

"How do we … not get a big head?"
I think the very fact that we are Old Premeds will help in this area. For virtually all of us, Medicine will be a second career. We will be entering the ranks of DO’s and MD’s knowing what works in the real world in a way that someone who is in their early 20’s and has no life experience outside of the classroom and frat parties does not.
By way of illustration, I spent most of my previous life working for a company that had seen many ups and downs over the years. Most of the people in my workgroup who ended up working there had diverse backgrounds from within the industry prior to their start dates. The end result was that nobody was arrogant, and it was a great place to work. Everyone - even outside my particular workgroup - was treated with respect.
Unfortunately, we ended up being owned by Brand X. The employees of Brand X were very different from us. They had, almost to a man, extremely homogenous backgrounds and had easily slipped into a stable job at Brand X after very little experience within the industry itself. As a result, they tended to act like they were born with silver spoons in their mouths and were some of the most arrogant individuals I’ve ever met. Needless to say, the relations within one workgroup at Brand X, let alone between workgroups, could only be described as dismal. When we, as Brand Y people, interacted with employees outside our workgroup from Brand X , hostility was so prevalent in the institution, they looked at us like we were some strange alien life form who had just landed on the planet. I suppose in many ways, we were.
Hopefully the situation isn’t quite as bad in most hospitals, but if it is it’s up to us as individuals to reform it on a day to day basis as we go about our business.

Wow, this is a great thread, especially since I just started volunteering about a month ago and have really had a bunch of same experiences.
ttraub, I come from the same high-tech world, where it has been an absoloute culture shock to volunteer in the hospital, for the same reasons – you really hit the nail on the head.
Where I have been volunteering, I sbowed up the first night and no one even really showed me what I should be doing, so I just kind of stand around sometimes and wait for someone to tell me what to do. I don’t want to bother anybody or be an annoyance, but most of the time people seem to just kind of pretend I am not there…
Anyways, great thread, I love it because I am going through some of the same types of issues.
The best thing about volunteering so far has been the patients, being friendly with them and doing small things like getting pillows/blankets or helping them be more comfortable. Also, the techs and nurses are really appreciative when you do something menial for them… I have the feeling that the more you do, the more they will give you to do… it’s kinda like “earning your stripes”.
But y’all are not alone with the experiences you have had.
The way I look at it, I am going to do my best, be thick skinned for the time I need to get the LOR, and learn if I want to be an MD/DO in the meantime… but being thick skinned is definitely going to be a key to this process.

Last night I got a 5 day old baby… he was soooo cute… The parents were MIA for a while… not sure why…
One thing that still shocks me is the even though our nurses are NOT overworked (ie most patients they can have is 2 per person and there are nursing students running around EVERYWHERE)… they don’t seem to want to have anything to do with the patients… this never fails to amaze me…
they don’t want to actually take care of the patients… and the people that do take care of the patients, they don’t want to hear anything from them… I’m baffled by this.
Last night’s experience was funny (both strange and humorous)… in that I was dealing with 2 brandy new parents… which… when you are one you don’t THINK you’re being neurotic… but you are… the dad’s level of excitement about the baby was FAR more than the mom’s… which I thought was really funny…
ah well… I think I’ll be in Peds for another couple of weeks and then probably move to a different department as the Fall semester starts. We’ll see how it goes.
Take care all!