The most important thing Meghan Connor needed to remember was where to find the gauze. In the back of the University of Delaware's student-run ambulance, the college freshman searched through cabinets and drawers trying to scrounge up whatever she could. Less than an arm's-length away, a university hockey player lay on a gurney, bleeding heavily from a cut down his side caused by a skate. The more experienced student emergency responders worked on the patient, while Connor took charge of finding bandages on just her second call.
Connor is part of a far-reaching network of student-run ambulance alumni who now find themselves working in healthcare. More than 250 on-campus EMS groups exist nationwide, and everyone associated with them agrees: It is one of the best ways for a student to prepare for a medical--or any other--career. "Even if you decide to go into business, you've acquired the skill of how to work with a team," says Dr. George J. Koenig, president of the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation (NCEMSF). "It clearly builds your communication skills because you're interacting with people on the worst day of their lives--they're going to a hospital in an ambulance."
Although Koenig quickly recognizes the value of EMS experience in any professional field, most students join a college ambulance team with the intention of pursuing a career in medicine. And the results show. Dr. Baxter Larmon is the medical director of UCLA EMS, which produced about 100 physicians and 15 to 20 paramedics since he became involved. In the past six years, every student who applied to medical school was accepted, he said. "Is it something that helps them? Absolutely," says Larmon, who co-founded UCLA's Center for Prehospital Care. "It not only helps them get into medical school, but once they're there, I think it also makes an incredibly stronger physician as well."
Acquiring Skills Firsthand
Larmon is a mentor and counselor for UCLA EMS members interested in attending medical school, and he is also a professor at the UCLA School of Medicine. With a front-row seat through the entire process, he believes one of the biggest benefits for EMTs in medical school is the skills they acquire. "Ninety percent of what is taught in an EMT class is skills," he says. "You'll never learn in medical school how to stop bleeding--there is no lecture on stopping bleeding."
Koenig learned that firsthand upon his 1996 graduation from Bucknell University, where he worked on the Emergency Response Team. As a Bucknell EMT, he saw everything from lacerated extremities to eight-foot falls to cardiac arrests. In addition to gaining valuable experience, those kinds of stories can create a stronger medical school candidate in an interview. "It really gives you something to talk about," Koenig says. "It's not that exciting to say, ‘I shadowed a physician in an office setting and we saw patients. It was interesting, and I learned a lot.' Here you're actually the one providing the care and directly interacting with the person."
That interaction is one of the skills that translates across professions. Connor left the University of Delaware Emergency Care Unit (UDECU) upon her 2010 graduation, when she began her career as a labor and delivery nurse at Georgetown University Hospital. She applied to UDECU as a freshman, thinking she wanted to become an emergency room nurse. Her experiences do not directly carry over--no hockey players are in the maternity ward--but the communication skills do. "You learn how to deal with people and how talk to people when they're vulnerable," Connor says. "Whether they're hurt or drunk, I learned a lot about how to make sure the patients were comfortable so I could treat them the best I could."