The Professional Benefits for Volunteer Research Assistants in a Pediatric Emergency Department
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BACKGROUND: Emergency departments (EDs) have utilized university student volunteers to facilitate enrollment of patients into prospective studies; however, the impact of this experience on participant careers is relatively unknown. OBJECTIVES: We determined the proportion of successful postgraduate school/research job applications supported by our program reference letter. We also examined participant satisfaction. METHODS: This was a prospective cohort study of volunteer research assistants in a tertiary care pediatric ED from September 2011 to July 2013. Students volunteered one 5-h shift per week for at least 6 months. They completed three surveys: 1) Entrance - demographics and goals for entering the ED research assistant program; 2) Exit - program satisfaction, reasons for leaving the program, and future career goals; 3) Follow-up - survey and e-mails were sent to record positions secured since leaving the program. RESULTS: There were a total of 920 applicants over the study period, and 127 volunteers were selected to participate in the program. Response rates for entrance, exit, and follow-up surveys were 100%, 84.9%, and 96.2%, respectively. Of the participants who left and responded, 89/101 (88.9%) obtained school/research positions supported by our program reference letter. Further, 72.6% ranked their satisfaction with the program at least a 7 on a 10-point categorical scale, and 82.9% reported that they "agreed/strongly agreed" that the program helped with their career goals. CONCLUSIONS: A volunteer student program is in high demand for university students interested in health sciences/research and potentially has a beneficial career impact for its participants.
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