Learning Beyond the Classroom

University of Chicago Emergency Medical Services (UCEMS) members

From November 2018

By Kate Blankinship

Behind the scenes at major University events, living in dorms, and in classes are student Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs). Each student EMR is a member of the University of Chicago Emergency Medical Services (UCEMS), an RSO that staffs events like Summer Breeze and Convocation and hosts an EMR course each quarter. During this course, students learn everything required to become EMR and Basic Life Support certified, such as the fundamentals of first aid, emergency response, and CPR/AED usage.

Fourth-year Delia Sosa, co-chief of the UCEMS active unit, recalls that when she took the course her first year, “It was so much fun. You learn how to take vital signs, how to deliver a baby, how to splint a broken leg.” Students must attend every class—totaling fifty hours—to receive EMR certification. Sosa, a Red Cross certified trainer, now leads the same EMR course with other student trainers. Sosa said it’s common for students to initially be intimidated by the material, but she enjoys helping participants to grow their skills and gain confidence in interacting with patients—an aspect of the job she finds most fulfilling. “I really like taking care of people, even if it’s only for a brief period of time, and comforting them,” Sosa said.

After getting certified, students have the opportunity to join UCEMS. As student first responders, members of UCEMS staff events like intramural soccer games, and can assist attendees with medical needs such as strained muscle, allergic reactions, anxiety attacks—or recommend when they should seek more advanced emergency care. Fourth-year Max Pierce, the executive director of UCEMS, joined the active unit despite initially thinking he would not.

“I was only planning on taking the EMR course, but, at the end of it, I had decided that I wanted to maintain what I had learned and actually use it, so I decided to stay on and join the unit,” Pierce said.

To join UCEMS’s active unit, students must also go through a four-week responder-in-training process, successfully complete two scenarios that mimic real-life events and test students’ capabilities, and pass a written exam. After the responder-in-training component, students must also commit to participating in once-a-week training drills as part of the active unit. These drills test skills ranging from patient interaction to treatment of broken bones and asthma attacks.

The roles of each EMS active unit depend on the level of certification of people on the unit. UChicago’s unit runs at an EMR level, meaning that while student responders can provide first aid and care, they are unable to, among other tasks, administer medication. In the coming years, UCEMS hopes to advance the unit’s level.

“Ultimately, the future goals of the unit are to expand to include more responders and be able to offer more to the UChicago community—staffing more events, offering more classes, and potentially growing into a larger and more advanced EMS organization,” fourth-year and UCEMS Co-Chief Aaditya Rawal said.

Currently, UCEMS has about fifty students on the active unit, eight instructors, ten to fifteen instructor aids, and fifteen crew chiefs. As a licensed medical unit, UCEMS faces many complexities that other RSOs never come upon.

“There can be logistical issues—we may use medical equipment that needs to be immediately replaced, but the funds may not necessarily be available at the time we need them. In addition, everything that we do has to be coordinated with University of Chicago Police Department and UChicago Medicine to make sure that we are in good standing with all legal and medical requirements,” Rawal said.

These challenges have yet to halt UCEMS’s ability to manage an efficient RSO. In addition to training courses, UCEMS also hosts a quarterly mock Mass Casualty Incident for active unit members in order for active responders to get the required practice.

Ultimately, the students who choose to not only take the EMR class but also commit to joining the active unit both make UCEMS possible and ensure that students on campus have access to emergency medical services. When asked about what he loves most about UCEMS, Pierce said, “Definitely the people, which may be cliché, but I genuinely believe it.”

Having been part of UCEMS since his first year, Rawal has seen relationships progress throughout the years. “I really love how close everybody is on the RSO—getting to know everybody over the last three years has been a privilege and seeing all the good they have done for the unit and for other people has been great,” he said.

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