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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis EMTs balance student leadership and training

Published: November 1, 2012
Section: Features

BEMCo is an entirely student-run service; the two supervisors, Hannah Goldberg and Paul Schneider, are undergraduate students who have experience working both on and off campus. These two supervisors alternate being on call every other day and there are always a total of four people on call at all times. All calls that BEMCo receives stay within the BEMCo network—meaning that BEMCo has an obligation to Brandeis’ student body not to report to any faculty, staff or student about a BEMCo call.

“We take confidentiality extremely seriously,” Goldberg, BEMCo’s student director and clinical supervisor said. As supervisors, Goldberg and Schneider collaborate with their medical director to perform a weekly review of the calls. BEMCo does quality assurance with the health center but all of these calls are kept confidential.

“People are sometimes concerned when the police show up on the call. They are there solely for BEMCo’s safety and they are usually really great about helping us maintain the call to solely a medical call,” Goldberg said. BEMCo only responds to calls on campus and cannot give help to anyone off campus.

BEMCo does a medical assessment after the call to decide whether or not the student needs to go to the hospital. If so, the student is transported by the ambulance company of Waltham, AMR.

BEMCo’s medical director, Dr. Debra Poaster, commends the students in BEMCo for their dedication and commitment, especially to the supervisors who are on call every other night.

“What other club makes you stay awake every other night?” Poaster said. “It’s a tough balance too, because you can’t have too many primaries because then people don’t get enough experience.”

She knows that for many of these students, BEMCo is not the only club that they belong to and on top of that, many of these students are pre-health and have lots of coursework in labs. Poaster says that BEMCo students are at a real advantage when they start applying to medical school. There are other ambulance services in the area, however, BEMCo has won many awards as a college EMS.

“It’s so neat that they’re able to have that kind of interaction with patients. A lot of students who apply to medical school have never even talked to a patient before. It’s a unique experience that students at Brandeis have,” Poaster said.

There are students on call every hour of every day. The training to become a member of BEMCo is strenuous, but Goldberg says that she knows her hard work is worth it.

“Being on call so frequently is awfully difficult when managing your classwork, other clubs and a social life, but helping people that you sit next to in class every day is incredibly rewarding,” Goldberg said.

BEMCo, short for Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps, is Brandeis’ free emergency medical services. If you’re on campus at any hour of the day and you call BEMCo, the service will respond to your call immediately. In order to become a part of BEMCo, applicants must first take an EMT course to become certified, either offered through Brandeis or at an off-campus site in Massachusetts.

Currently, there are about 50 active Brandeis students who are members of BEMCo, but they vary in experience and age. When members are first initiated into BEMCo, they are known as “tertiaries.” They are responsible for taking vitals and most of them have 1-2 shifts per month.

In the the next step of the process they are deemed “secondaries” and become responsible for demographics. In order to be a secondary, a member must pass a written test and respond to mock calls. If a second simultaneous call arises, the secondary will respond to the second call with the supervisor. They are responsible for these minor calls, in addition to minor assessments.

The next level, “primary,” is only granted to members who have served as secondaries for at least six months and who have had off-campus EMT experience for more than three months. Primaries must pass a very rigorous mock call that includes a number of complicated tactics. There are usually a limited number of primaries in any given year because there are many secondaries that do not pass the first time.

“The primary mock call is the most complicated call that we can think of in order to prepare them,” Goldberg said. “This includes combining a number of factors that make a call the most complicated.”

BEMCo currently faces a lack of primaries, which is mainly attributed to a lack of off-campus experience, Poaster said. She also notes that there is a declining number of places that are allowing students to volunteer and do part-time work, mainly because many fire and ambulance departments are now combined. Students from suburban areas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York used to be able to find experience easily, but so many of these positions are being professionalized now, Poaster says.

“The possibility for students to do volunteer or part-time work is getting harder because you can’t be a public employee just for the summer,” Poaster said.

Since students are having more trouble finding placement, BEMCo is taking action by finding venues in Massachusetts. This is an accessible option for students looking to gain off-campus experience

The student-led organization is driven to provide BEMCo members with the highest level of medical education so that Brandeis community members can receive the best care.

Poaster said that the university is incredibly supportive of BEMCo’s efforts. She said that people are always grateful, especially because they know that BEMCo has a short response time.

“I have letters from students, staff and administration who are all so appreciative of their expertise and professionalism,” Poaster said.

BEMCo is classified as one of Brandeis’ student clubs on campus. Even though all BEMCo members are certified Massachusetts EMTs, the university has to authorize all administered drugs. It receives funding through the Student Union that covers all of the expenses including medical supplies and its vehicle.

BEMCo now operates a 2012 Ford Expedition that is fully equipped with emergency vehicle lighting and basic life support equipment. They do not transport individuals on the BEMCo truck to off-campus sites, but on campus, the truck is put to good use.

“As you can imagine, this truck does a lot of starting and stopping and quick calls take on a lot of wear and tear,” Goldberg says. Upgrading to this new truck has been a major improvement for the BEMCo staff, who were previously driving a 2000 model.

Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps responds to more than 300 calls a year, about 20 percent of which are alcohol and drug-related.

“Surprisingly, there aren’t very many trends in our calls because they are so scattered. It’s a common factor of all EMS, that most calls are very random and come in sporadically. We get calls from the science center, the Mods and the freshmen dorms,” Goldberg said.