The summer before I began college, I was encouraged to take an EMT class with several friends. At the time I wish I’d known the immense benefits of ultimately being able to volunteer as an EMT throughout my time as an undergrad.
Within several weeks of starting shifts alongside fellow students and full-time staff, I quickly learned my experiences as an EMT would teach me just as much as, if not more than, the work I was doing in the classroom. (This is not to knock the significance of learning the amino acids or functional groups in organic chemistry; rather, volunteering has just offered different experiences than those in my day-to-day interactions on campus.)
Many students get to college with an interest in medicine but are not certain it’s the path for them. Initially part of this group, I was fortunate to get advice that steered me in the direction of becoming an EMT. It let me test the waters of medicine, and all in all my time volunteering as a first responder has become a highlight of my week because of the amazing experiences that have stemmed from every shift.
Why should others engage in EMS volunteerism, specifically college-age students?
1. Being an EMT in your college’s town or as a member of your campus’ squad is a great way to meet people at your school and in the local area.
2. You learn pragmatic skills on every shift. I particularly feel the applicability of the skills gained from this work can carry over to really any facet of your life, from learning how to deal with stressful situations in the workplace to having the confidence to serve as a leader in tense circumstances.
3. EMS work gives you a rare chance as an undergrad to gain valuable exposure to the medical field and explore if this career path fits your interests. Beyond that the exposure to professionals in the field provides another chance to learn about EMS through the opinions of seasoned paramedics, EMTs, and other staff you’ll work with.
4. Becoming an EMT in college provides unique opportunities for other jobs, such as working at concerts or sporting events. Having the certification in college lets you serve as a first responder at sites from ski resorts to professional venues. Within several months of receiving my certification, I was able to serve as medical staff for a concert and a professional basketball game.
5. You get a chance to leave campus and learn in a different manner than being in the classroom. By this I refer not only to the opportunity to communicate with patients and fellow EMS personnel, but also the unique insight, difficult to capture in a classroom, you can gain as an EMT. It helps you mature and strengthen as an individual from encounters at vulnerable times in your patients’ lives.
This ability to reflect on what you truly value in life, coupled with a humbling chance to serve as a helping hand, has been well worth the sacrifices of becoming an EMT while in college.
Christopher Gaeta is a student at Swarthmore College.