During a typical day at the Mercy Medical Center Emergency Department (ED), nurses, doctors and support staff swiftly move through the halls of the 27-room facility. Patients register and are assessed and treated for everything from fractures and lacerations to possible cardiac arrest or stroke.
But another group of individuals are working hard behind the scenes.
With an average of 60,000 patient visits per year, UC Merced student volunteers play a huge role in the ED, assisting physicians and staff to make sure things run smoothly.
What started six years ago with a few students has blossomed into more than 40 UC Merced students currently volunteering in the ED, with many more students applying than there are positions available.
The hospital already had existing partnerships with UC Davis' family practice residency program and Merced College's nursing student program and respiratory therapy program. When UC Merced opened in 2005, it was only natural for a collaboration between the hospital and university to begin.
"We wanted to connect with UC Merced in some way," said Marcee Samberg, the ED's volunteer program coordinator. "So our Emergency Department seemed like a great place for students to come to learn and for us to have them help us make the patient experience better."
Through the volunteer experience, students like Amber Parkinson are able to gain first-hand experience with patients in the emergency department, cultivate relationships with medical professionals and solidify their career goals.
"I chose to be a volunteer because I knew that I was interested in a medical career," said Parkinson, a biological sciences  major from Sacramento who has been a volunteer since 2009. "I wanted to get some hands-on experience and shadow some medical professionals and see if it was a really a fit for me."
The primary focus of the volunteers is to keep patients comfortable and informed, allowing nursing staff to cover more ground and tend to the patients with the most critical needs. During a typical three-hour shift, UC Merced student volunteers change bedding and sanitize rooms, stock shelves, get what patients and their families need and most of all talk to them.
Philip Brown, director of Emergency Services, said his experienced staff treats from pre-birth to 112 years old and a broad array of ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups.
"The students see the extremes," Brown said of the experience student volunteers gain. "Everything is raw — raw pain, raw grief."
While there may occasionally be opportunities for them to support staff during the provision of clinical care, the focus of the volunteer position is to provide information and comfort to patients and their families.
"This is not a clinical experience," Brown said. "This will help students figure out if they truly want to pursue a career in the medical field, working with people with health issues. They are exposed to medical terminology and learn how to read body language and non-verbal cues."
San Jose native Randell Rueda is confident the exposure he has gained as a volunteer will help him in future.
"I've been privileged to have a chance to gain a better understanding of how to relate to patients before relating to their problem," Rueda said. "Through this experience in the ED, I have gained skills that will help me become a better practicing physician in the future."
On campus, Rueda serves as a peer health educator in the sexual health group, which ties into his academic emphasis of microbiology and immunology .
Since its inception, the volunteer program has been beneficial for UC Merced students and the emergency department, and there is strong consideration of expanding the program into other departments within the hospital.
Emergency department technician Roman Pomicpic, who works directly with the volunteers, said the students have become indispensable to the unit.
"They help a lot," he said. "They are a very special part of the unit. When they are not here, they are missed."