Physician Volunteering: Get Involved!

Paul Biddinger, MDBy Paul Biddinger, MD

Second in a series of articles in support of  the month-long Mass. Dept. of Public Health project, “Together We’re Ready – Massachusetts Prepared.”

When a disaster or mass casualty event strikes, it is natural for people to want to help. Over the last two decades, medical volunteers have been asked to respond to numerous incidents, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, threats of pandemic disease and violent acts – in our own backyard and beyond.

Physician volunteers from all corners of medicine can provide invaluable expertise that augments and reinforces the front line emergency response efforts to support the local community immediately affected by the event.

Yet, while there is no doubt that physicians are uniquely qualified to provide aid when an emergency occurs, many doctors have yet to appreciate that the decision to volunteer is one that is best made well in advance of an actual event.

Well-meaning, but untrained and unverified volunteers who spontaneously show up after a disaster can sometimes make things worse, not better. Optimal medical volunteer response requires pre-planning, credentialing and orientation to the community response.

Whether you want your response to be as an individual or as part of a volunteer group, local or statewide, if you think you may want to assist, the best way to get involved is to register and affiliate with an established volunteer organization.

MA Responds is the Commonwealth’s online registration system used to manage volunteers in response to emergencies. There are four ways to volunteer within MA Responds including joining a local Medical Reserve Corps unit or becoming a state unaffiliated volunteer. I encourage you to learn more by visiting the MA Responds website.

The anniversary of September 11th reminds us that we never know when an emergency will occur. Taking a few minutes of your time to register today as a volunteer helps ensure that we will all be ready to respond when needed.

Dr. Biddinger, a practicing emergency physician, is the Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also serves as the Director of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Exercise Program (EPREP) at the Harvard School of Public Health and is chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Preparedness.

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