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Volunteers help connect the dots in the Emergency Department

Toronto, September 4, 2015

By Corinne Ton That

Volunteer Tanya Aziz
Volunteer Tanya Aziz assists a patient in the Emergency Department. There are 10 volunteers serving in the ED, which sees 75,000 patients a year. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

Each week, Tanya Aziz volunteers as an Emergency Department escort for four busy hours. She greets incoming patients, guides them to the registration desk, fetches warm blankets, brings sandwiches and juice boxes to hungry patients, and helps family members find their loved ones waiting in beds or cubicles. And answers lots and lots of questions.

“It’s dynamic, it’s exciting, and there’s always something to do,” said Aziz, a biomedical science student at Ryerson University. “People coming to the Emergency Department are often nervous and they don’t know where to go. As a volunteer, I try to help make them feel more comfortable and at ease.”

Each ED volunteer works three- to four-hour shifts once a week, either in the afternoons or evenings. Michael Kidd, director of volunteer services, said the volunteers don’t require a specific background or training. “We look for people with the right attitude and customer service skills who can improve the patient experience,” he said.

This volunteer program was recently reintroduced in anticipation of the expansion of the emergency department, which already sees 75,000 patients a year and will physically double in size following completion of the 3.0 renovations. “When the unit is twice as large as it is now, I think the role will become even more important,” he said. Kidd said that as the ED grows, he expects the volunteers will be “more and more helpful in fostering as positive patient and family experience.”

Triage nurse Daniel Vaillancourt said the volunteers have made a big difference. “They do a lot of the extra things that save us time, like greeting them, finding what they’re here for and answering some of their questions,” he said. “It helps with the flow of things.”

Aziz said the volunteer position is a fulfilling role that allows her to engage with patients one-on-one. “It makes you feel really good, like you’re really making a difference,” she said.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.