Students learn to save lives

on .

St. Petersburg Times

An organization at USF has a lofty goal: A campus full of emergency medical responders.
Published October 2, 2005

TAMPA - Dave Reid, 19, measured vital signs.

Shamik Dwivedi, 18, ventilated airways to enable breathing.

Erin Sotiaux, 18, stabilized a possible spinal cord injury.

Three Doogie Howser, MDs in the midst of Tampa?

Not exactly.

They're not doctors, but they play them in the classroom.

Student members of a new organization at the University of South Florida's Tampa campus, they were getting medical training from certified medical personnel Saturday.

Thirty-five of the organization's 135 members are taking first responder training to be skilled at giving basic medical help to the injured.

Once students graduate from the first responder course they'll be paired with paramedics to assist the Tampa Fire Department on campus and at campus events and do ride-alongs with the Fire Department and AMR ambulance service. The ultimate goal of the University Emergency Medical Services Association, or UEMSA, is to provide emergency medical service 24 hours a day, seven days a week on USF's Tampa campus.

On Saturday, students used real paramedic equipment - breathing tubes, straps, neck cuffs, backboards and blood pressure monitors. They had medical mannequins to practice on.

One of the mannequins at the front of the classroom was being treated as an unconscious patient who wasn't breathing. "Are you okay?" asked Dwivedi, a freshman from Orlando - it's procedural - before using a face mask and balloon to push air into the dummy's latex lungs, setting them expanding and contracting.

Students took turns getting the mannequin to breath. And the experience prompted a number of questions: "Is the tube going to always go down so easy like that?" "What if he comes to?" "What do you do if he's fighting you?"

Carol Shurtleff answered, drawing upon real-life experiences from working 12 years as a nurse, a decade of them in the emergency room.

Compared to the classroom, "The real world is totally different," said Shurtleff. "Your patient's not going to be laying there all still like that."

Patients will, and often do, fight the ones trying to help them, and there may well be blood, vomit, sweat and other bodily fluids adding to the chaos.

"A lot of people who go to med school don't know what they're getting into," said the 45-year-old Port Richey native. "So, it's good to get the practice in before you hit the street."

A full-time USF student herself, Shurtleff hopes to be in medical school by 2007, and is taking the first responder course as a refresher.

Many of the students are studying to become medical professionals. They have varying levels of medical experience. Of the organization's 135 members, 45 have taken community emergency response team training with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Then there's Phaylinh Wells, 26, of St. Petersburg, who spent six years of active duty as an Army medic.

Now a junior, she helps members with clinical training like the class on Saturday, and is an executive board member of UEMSA, which is part of the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation, an organization of 150 student-run campus EMS groups. The USF group has been functional for about half a year but the first responder class began about two weeks ago. Group founders Ari Rubinstein, 22 of Sarasota and Aitan Zacharin, 21, of Miami hope the organization can be a win-win situation for everyone involved. "For us, it's a hands-on opportunity to provide service," said Zacharin.

Rubinstein added, "And with the service we'll be able to provide, we may be able to save a life."

--Staff writer Amber Mobley can be reached at 813 269-5311 or

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