The Santa Clara
By Lisa Disanti
Sophomore Matt Zahler steps into his blue suit and collects his supplies as he prepares for work. But instead of getting paid for his job, he is the one paying.
Zahler is one of 24 Santa Clara students who are sacrificing $4,900 each quarter to work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) on campus. That’s enough to buy a new car at the end of the academic year.
On-campus EMTs volunteer 28 hours a week on average, during which they could be earning $16 an hour working off-campus as an EMT for American Medical Response (AMR), according to Zahler, student director of the EMT program.
In addition to volunteering as an EMT on campus and carrying a full course load as a theology and philosophy major, Zahler also works full time for AMR to pay the bills.
Michele Helms, physician’s assistant at Cowell Student Health Center and advisor to the EMTs, said that students typically volunteer 300 to 400 hours each quarter, working two to three 14-hour shifts each week. Shifts begin at 6 p.m. and end at 8 a.m., while Cowell is closed.
While most students are studying, partying or sleeping, EMTs wait by the phone throughout the night.
“They have to give up dates, parties, and movies and then have to figure out when to study on top of that,” said Helms.
To receive certification, students must complete a course that meets twice a week for three hours and on Saturdays for six to eight hours. This course lasts one quarter and students do not receive course credits.
Occasional refresher courses are required and students must be recertified for CPR every two years.
Course fees come out of students’ pockets. The 10-week course costs $850 and the uniform costs another $150, half of which is covered by Cowell.
“Not only do they pay for the course, they go to the extra classes and they work for free,” Helms said.
After paying $925 and attending 140 hours of classes, these students are ready to help other students.
Cowell provides partial stipends to students based on financial need, but otherwise students are responsible for course fees.
Dr. Larry Wolfe, director of campus health and counseling services, estimated the budget to be between $15,000 and $17,000 each year. Funds are directed toward medical supplies, a golf cart, meals for EMTs on-duty, uniforms and stipends.
George Kallingal, a senior biology and psychology double major and the other student director of the EMT program, believes that EMTs should be paid salaries instead of stipends.
If the school were to pay 14 students minimum wage, it would cost them around $82,000 each year. If Cowell were to cover course and uniform fees for the same number of students, it would cost around $13,000 each year.
Combined, this would cost the school a little more than four college tuitions. However, Wolfe said that the Cowell budget is not large enough to cover more costs than it already covers.
Instead, he said the program would most likely remain voluntary. Helms said that students benefit by learning how to administer basic medical first aid, gaining confidence, maturity, and learning how to work as a team. Several EMTs who have graduated are now in medical school.
“I wanted to be able to go into a situation and if everyone’s freaking out, I wanted to be able to take control of it, to have that ability,” he said.
Peggie Robinson, clinic manager of the Cowell Student Health Center, commends the EMT program.
“What better preparation for the real world when you have similar situations,” she said.
Helms said there were 164 calls last year and about 150 the previous year. Kallingal noted an increase in phone calls since last year. By the seventh week this year, they had received 50 calls.
This means that there could potentially be about 214 calls this year, a 76.6 percent increase from last year.
Calls have increased since 1998 when four students started the EMT program.
“That might go hand in hand with a better rapport, more publicity, more awareness of the program,” Kallingal said.
“In the event of a disaster, like an earthquake, we would rely on them to supplement the medical response on campus,” Wolfe added.
Some students are willing to forgo a new car to have this opportunity.