Student Stories

First Responders

The 20,000 attendees of last spring's convocation events had access to medical care from a group of highly trained first responders. However, the individuals who were on the scene to provide medical care and first aid were younger than the day's graduates.

University of Chicago Emergency Medical Services (UCEMS) aims to provide professional medical care at special events, said Jonathan Warczak, AB'12, AM'12, who restarted the student first responder group in February 2011 after a hiatus of a few years.

Warczak first became interested in emergency response after a Core Biology research project on the impact of first response on improving outcomes for individuals with cardiac arrest. His research inspired him to restore the group.

"We provide coverage for events [...] that wouldn't have emergency medical staff coverage otherwise," Warczak said. "We can be dispatched to situations in addition to operating our own first aid tent."

In order to provide such care, group members must be state-licensed Illinois medical respondents or technicians and complete additional training. Weekly training sessions often include guest lectures by health professionals. Past topics have included alcohol intoxication, drug use, diabetes, allergic reactions, broken bones, seizure, and stroke.

Thanks to a partnership with the Chicago Fire Department (CFD), students attend training sessions at the CFD simulation center, work in a lab with talking mannequins for simulations, and watch recordings of their efforts to learn how they can improve. Group members can also pursue additional educational opportunities such as shadowing ER responders or spending clinical time with the CFD.

A ride along experience with CFD paramedics gave third-year and assistant chief of UCEMS Adrian Gomez valuable insight as a student considering a medical profession.

"A lot of doctors don't realize how hard it is for paramedics," he said. "There is a divide between doctors and what happens in the ambulance, and that makes providing care harder for the doctors. It's a great advantage to have experienced both sides."

After covering a few special events, Gomez hopes to see the group gain members and provide more services to the community.

"I hope to grow and offer emergency transport services to the greater community and possibly get an ambulance," Gomez said. "But our immediate goal is continue to staff special events."

Through the University of Chicago First Responders Corps (UCFRC) course offered in the Physical Education department, students learn the basics of emergency response and begin their training for UCEMS. In the class, students watch videos on various health topics and have skills practice on techniques such as back boarding, splinting, using an oxygen tank, and conducting interviews with patients on their health history.

Gomez has been one of the course instructors, and said many of his students have put the skills they learned in the course into practice and have played a crucial role for individuals in need of immediate medical attention.

"A past student recently called me about being with someone as they passed out with an allergic reaction and they were able to stabilize their breathing," Gomez said.

Margaret Strair, fourth-year Philosophy and Germanic Studies major who serves as executive director of UCFRC, said she has found teaching other students very rewarding. She also believes the skills learned in UCFRC and UCEMS are valuable no matter a student's major or career plans.

"Whatever you do, you have to be able to adapt," she said. "You have to know when to take initiative or step back under the guidance of other people on your team. In UCFRC you learn a sense of responsibility, versatility, and problem solving essential when approaching situations."