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Rock Medicine nurses celebrate 40 years of caring for California fans

Monday June 3, 2013
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As a volunteer for the San Francisco-based nonprofit medical group, Rock Medicine, Kathy Ferris, RN, BSN, often spends her weekends caring for concertgoers at various venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

The idea of having nurses and other medical personnel at concerts was prompted in part by music festivals of the 1960s, such as Woodstock and Altamont Speedway Free Festival, where numerous injuries were reported among fans.

In 1973, San Francisco rock promoter Bill Graham asked the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic to staff a medical emergency care tent for the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin summer concerts in Golden Gate Park.

Over the past 40 years, the group known as Rock Medicine has evolved into a highly respected group of volunteer medical professionals, and a full program of the nonprofit HealthRIGHT 360 (formerly the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic) in San Francisco. As the group celebrated its 40th anniversary on May 13, they boasted a roster of more than 1,100 physicians, nurses, paramedics and emergency medical technicians who provide medical care at San Francisco 49ers games, concerts, celebrations, fairs and other events each year. In the past, Rock Medicine staff members have volunteered at more than 758 events in Northern California alone. In June, the group plans to expand their services to events in Southern California.

"Over the years we’ve grown in numbers and upgraded our equipment, but our basic philosophy that healthcare is a right, not a privilege, hasn’t changed," said Gordon Oldham, a former EMT and director of Rock Medicine. "We still believe in providing free medical care in a nonjudgmental way and returning each person to their friends or family without the necessity of hospitalization or police custody."

Ferris, manager of infection prevention and control at the Contra Costa County Regional Medical Center in Martinez, Calif., has been volunteering with Rock Medicine for the past 34 years. Like many of her fellow volunteers, she first learned about Rock Medicine when she attended a concert.

"I saw these people wearing medical T-shirts and caring for concertgoers and asked how I could join the team," said Ferris, who volunteers at three to four events each month. "As volunteers, we typically treat a variety of medical conditions, including dehydration, heat exhaustion, musculoskeletal injuries, crowd anxiety and what we call 'errors in judgment’ relating to drugs and alcohol."

Working in tents that resemble an Army hospital, Rock Medicine volunteers see anywhere from 10 to 20 patients in one night, or several hundred if it’s a weekend outdoor show. More than 4,000 people receive free medical care from Rock Medicine volunteers each year.

Whether they are handing out earplugs, sunscreen and adhesive bandages, or treating injuries or complications resulting from a chronic illness, the volunteers of Rock Medicine strive to ensure eventgoers are well cared for and safe.

For rock music lovers such as Ferris, volunteering for Rock Medicine has allowed her to attend some of the Bay Area’s finest concerts, even if she isn’t able to enjoy the whole show.

"A lot of people think volunteering with Rock Med will allow them to meet the bands and see free concerts, but we rarely treat performers and are usually too busy to sit and watch the show," Ferris said. "Rock Med does provide a great venue to master patient assessment skills and to treat a variety of health conditions."

Ferris has seen many nursing students and new grads gain valuable experience through volunteering with Rock Medicine.

"By volunteering with us at concerts, 49ers football games and other events, new nurses gain practical experience that looks good on their resumes," Ferris said. "They are working with the organization that pioneered event medicine."

Nurses interested in volunteering with Rock Medicine can apply at www.RockMed.org.

Linda Childers is a freelance writer. Send letters to editorWest@nurse.com.

Coverage increases

Rock Medicine volunteers provide free medical care at entertainment venues throughout California. Volunteer-staffed shows treated:

• 678 patients in 2010

• 700 patients in 2011

•  728 patients in 2012

Source: www.RockMed.org