College students get firsthand experience in emergency medicine

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By:Beth Maiman
USA Today College

College can come with its daily dose of stress for many students. Now imagine in the midst of class or a social gathering being called to assist someone in a medical emergency. For the 46 students who are a part of Tufts University Emergency Medical Service, also know as TEMS, this is a reality.

"When people call 911 they are really scared and they are in a bad situation and I think it is great to have people who they know and people they are comfortable with – you know their peers coming to help them," said current TEMS president and Tufts senior Ayal Pierce.

TEMS is a state licensed Emergency Medicine organization that is open 24/7 and has serviced the Tufts community since 1985.

The program is similar to many student-run emergency medical services that assist their college communities and TEMS is one of about 250 programs that are part of the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation.

For many of the TEMS members, being a part of the team is a great way to launch their future careers in the medical field. More than half of their members are pre-med majors. The outside the classroom experience, training and education gives students a great opportunity to learn, says Geoffrey Barlett, director of emergency management.

In order to join TEMS, one must be a certified emergency medical technician (EMT). An applicant needs to be CPR certified as well and go through addition training sessions put on by the program. Members attend monthly lectures on emergency medicine topics given by Medical Director Dr. Stacey Sperling.

"For the entire time they are on TEMS they are doing extra, more advanced, more sophisticated learning which they then bring back to the EM (emergency medicine) students and they help teach," Sperling said.

There are three people on shift at a time. Shifts are spilt up into day and night hours, so most members take about four shifts a month and more experienced members sometimes work 10-15 shifts. The team travels in a truck that is equipped with all of the same equipment a basic life support ambulance would.

"It's a great way to get involved in the community," said Tufts junior and TEMS member Haylee Rosenblatt. "People will recognize and wave at the truck as we drive by."

For those interested in going into medicine, TEMS provides one way for students to earn volunteer hours. Applications for medical schools or other graduate programs in health care often require prospective students to have volunteer hours. According to the Princeton Review, applicants should aim to hold a volunteer or paid position for at least six months as a way to stand out in the admission process of medical school.

"It's an added perk completely," says Pierce about the volunteer hours. "But, in our application process we try to see if the people who are applying to TEMS are doing it for the love of EMS and not for the love of just putting it on their resume."

Even for students not planning on going into medicine, TEMS has something to offer as well.

"I think some of the things that are really important for the students are the leadership opportunities," says Bartlett. "The organizational skills – some might be very basic like how to run a meeting. These are skills that they get to develop first hand by participating in TEMS and that they are going to be able to carry into any number of different professional careers that they might pursue. It's not just about people that want to pursue is medical or health care – some do it because they enjoy it and bring what they learn into other fields."

For some students TEMS is an accurate portrayal of what to expect in emergency medicine.

"I think the services that the TEMS kids provide are pretty much the same services that any medical emergency service provides. It is a college campus so we see a very restrictive age group, but the problems that we see are the general problems in emergency medicine," Sperling says. "I think the only time it becomes a little different is that they may get called to someone they know, but I think the kids that are in TEMS handle that very well. They do a very good job of respecting privacy and being very careful about HIPPA regulations."

Pierce echoed the importance of professionalism when working with TEMS and stated that all of their patients have expressed that they like the way TEMS conducts themselves and feel confident with the provided care. Pierce says the chance to work with and also to help fellow peers does add an interesting element to the program.

"You definitely have to be careful about not talking about patients. Privacy definitely applies to us," says Rosenblatt. "So I can't go home and talk to my roommate about a call or relay any information, so that is sort of why we have each other for a support system if anything gets too difficult."

Since TEMS makes sure there is always a more experienced person on shifts, one of the obstacles they face is making sure a senior, or more experienced member, is available. That can become hard when students have other activities and with the grueling 24/7 hours of the program. When that occurs sometimes graduates will come back and help in what they like to call a "celebrity shift."

"I remember the first time I had a call – you are really happy that there is someone there who has been there for a while and can help you if something goes wrong," says Pierce.

Pierce adds that another obstacle is making sure there is continuity because people are turning over really fast and to make sure the information is being passed down to the next generation.

"It is a challenged trying to cultivate skills in a group that you know you are probably limited to four years or less – if we are lucky a few members have come certified," said Bartlett.

Even with the juggling of school, a social life and TEMS both Pierce and Rosenblatt say the experience has made proven their passion for medicine and helped solidify that a career in medicine is what they really hope to aspire to.

"We hope that their experience in volunteerism, community service and TEMS helps them to prepare to do really altruistic things that help them in their careers and their lives," says Bartlett.

Beth Maiman is a senior at University of Oregon.

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