“Are you a medic?” asked a concerned teenage girl wearing cat ears as I patrolled the crowded walkways of the Hilton Anatole in Dallas for A-kon, a yearly event celebrating anime culture that attracts well over 20,000 people. Even with a stethoscope around my neck and a (very unflattering) vest that clearly labeled me as A-kon medical staff, it was fairly common for people to think that I am in a costume. Not at all surprising, considering that I was surrounded by people wearing a variety of extremely well-made, intricately detailed, and authentic-looking costumes.
As I turned around to face her, she quickly blurted out, “My friend has a heart problem and she is feeling sick!” I followed her around the corner and saw a young adolescent sitting against a wall. She definitely appeared anxious. As I sat down to assess her, she informed me that she has Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a rare congenital heart condition that results in a severely underdeveloped left ventricle. Fortunately, her vitals were stable. Long story short, she ended up being fine and was just feeling overwhelmed with all the people at the convention.
I learned 2 things with this encounter. First, my time spent in a pediatric cardiology clinic at a tertiary referral pediatric hospital was not in vain - despite the fact that I never thought I would see a case of HLHS ever again. Second, in the realm of event medicine, much less emergency medicine, you never know what kind of history patients will have.
Volunteering over the past 3 years as medical staff at A-kon has been a wonderful experience. Not only is it a fun divergence from medical school, but it has also broadened my clinical experience. I won't sugarcoat it, the vast majority of my time is spent passing out bandages for blisters, handing out OTC pain relief for headaches, or just walking around and making sure people stay hydrated. However, there have been occasions that got my blood pumping. I've assessed diabetic ketoacidosis, new-onset seizure, various substance intoxications, and so on. Now that I'm further along in my training, my paramedic and EMT colleagues have even started asking me questions and assisting in disposition. For me, volunteering at A-kon as medical staff was a no brainer as it combined two of my interests- medicine and Japanese culture. All it took to be involved was simply walking up to the counter and asking.
Everyone has their reasons for wanting to enter the field of emergency medicine, and for me one of its most attractive qualities is the versatility of the field itself. As frequently stated, anything can be related to emergency medicine. I implore anyone interested in emergency medicine to seek out or create unique and educational clinical opportunities for themselves outside of the standard volunteer clinic experience that is available at every medical school. The simplest way to find opportunities is to keep your ear out for what friends, classmates, or faculty members are already doing. Another option is to find events through your hobbies and volunteering. Some additional unique volunteer experiences I've encountered through using this approach include helping out at a WCMX event (extreme sports in a wheelchair) and the Dallas Marathon.
Needless to say, event medicine is awesome! Emergency medicine is a broad field with boundless opportunities if you are willing to discover them. Be bold, be involved, and it will be both a boon to your sanity and to your CV.
I would love to hear about your unique emergency medicine volunteer experience. Feel free to contact me at ArielleKing.firstname.lastname@example.org.