Voluntary Work – St John Ambulance
Verity Hawley is a Medical Student at The University of Leeds, after gaining three A*s and one A at A level. She took a year out between third and fourth year to complete an intercalated degree, and recieved a First Class Honours degree in Clinical Sciences (Molecular Medicine), winning a prize for achieving the highest mark in her degree. She has interviewed at the Leeds Medical School Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) for the past three years.
In this blog, Verity outlines her experiences volunteering in her local St John Ambulance department, in particular one pressurised experience with a child at a sporting event.
‘I learnt some potentially lifesaving skills…’
I joined my local St John Ambulance department at the start of sixth-form, as it provided both a chance to learn a bit about first aid and would also contribute to my Personal Statement when it came to writing it a year later. I found out about the organisation by word of mouth, as a friend of mine was already part of a different unit. I didn’t really know what to expect when I first went for an induction, and it was a rather surreal experience. The unit was in a local village hall, and the head of the unit was a middle-aged, slightly eccentric woman, albeit incredibly friendly. I met the other new starters, which transpired to be another hopeful medical student from a different school, a training paramedic and a nursing student. The experience unexpectedly turned out to be a great chance to learn about the roles of other allied healthcare professionals, as well as to make some really good friends of all different ages and learn some potentially lifesaving skills.
‘Each week we studied a different topic…’
I attended weekly sessions at the unit, and each week we studied a different topic. Most weeks involved learning about different basic first aid skills, from how to treat burns and stings, through to what to do in the event of a cardiac arrest outside of hospital. Furthermore, to demonstrate that we had attained the necessary skills to provide safe first aid in the community, we undertook an exam at the end of our first term. We also learned basic radio communication skills, in order to allow us to use walkie-talkies when we were widely spread out at events. Once I had passed my first aid exam, and was fully kitted out with the St John Ambulance high-visibility uniform, I was ready to start attending events.
‘My heart sank, and my training was put to the test…’
During my time with St John Ambulance, I attended a number of events in my local area, including a village fête, a cycling race and a local festival. However, the event that stuck with me most was a child and adult’s triathlon. I was stationed by the poolside for the event, alongside the head of the unit, observing the swimmers for any issues. Halfway through the race, my superior was called away to see somebody outside, so I remained by the poolside alone. Needless to say, my heart sank and my training was put to the test when one of the race organisers came over to me looking slightly panicked asking for help with one of the competitors. Whilst following her to their medical room, I was desperately rehearsing my first aid training over and over in my head and praying that it wasn’t going to be something I wouldn’t know how to deal with.
‘I hope that I made a small difference that day…’
I arrived to find a very pale and slightly unresponsive 10 year old girl who was shaking uncontrollably. She had done the swimming part of the race, and had collapsed during the outdoor running, in the cold and rain. Based on my training I made a quick assessment that she was probably extremely cold and at risk of hypothermia. I had a heat blanket in my first aid kit, so laid her down, covered her in it, raised her legs, and then put my enormous, lined first aid coat over the top of her. Once I was satisfied that she had started to warm up and wasn’t going to pass out, I then radioed my superior using the skills we had learned at the unit, and she came to reassess the patient. Fortunately, the girl was improving, my supervisor was happy with what I had done, and her parents arrived soon afterwards to take her home. Although my contribution was minimal, I hope that I made a small difference that day; if I had not recognised the problem early on, then it may have escalated and led to the girl being taken to hospital.
‘I gained a lot of confidence…’
After over a year with the St John’s unit, I gained a lot of confidence, and it was my first opportunity to experience what it is like to make decisions about people’s health in potentially quite stressful situations. Furthermore, it provided excellent discussion points for my medical interviews, and I would wholeheartedly encourage other medical hopefuls to explore the possibility of joining a local unit as you can provide a service to your local community whilst learning a lot about yourself and developing your employability for the future.
A career as a doctor is challenging and requires dedication and perseverance. There will be hurdles along the way, but remember you have a very exciting career ahead of you and that is the ultimate goal to aim for. Good luck! If you want to talk to one of our consultants about your options, we will be happy to talk to you. Ring us on +44 (0) 207 399 1990.