On Call, All Night: Students provide peer-to-peer emergency care
Student EMT volunteers play unique role on campus
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 07:10
Like many students, Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS) volunteers spend Saturday nights clinging to their phones.
But what sets TEMS students apart is that on some weekends, the phone does not stop ringing until 7 a.m.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, there are TEMS students in uniform — khaki pants and a navy polo with the Star of Life emblem — prepared to respond to a gamut of medical needs, from broken bones and twisted ankles to alcohol poisoning and other life-threatening emergencies.
Unlike other volunteer ambulance service members, these certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) go about their daily routines while they are on the job. When a call comes in, everything else must be put on hold.
Whether it is in the middle of a class or while hanging out with friends, on duty TEMS volunteers have to leave whatever they are doing and respond to the scene immediately.
“There is a lot that goes through your mind from the start of the call to the end of it,” Executive Director of TEMS Robert Kaufman, a senior, said. “There are also a lot of quick judgments we need to make, like do we need an ambulance? How do we get the patient out of the building?”
Regardless of the call, Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) dispatches an officer to meet TEMS at the scene. Police are there for protection — it is a felony to assault a TEMS volunteer, as with any EMT — and to provide access to areas where TEMS’ key fob does not work, like dorm rooms, Kaufman said.
While the two groups work together, anything a student tells a TEMS volunteer is kept private, even from TUPD, because of medical confidentiality laws, Geoffrey Bartlett, Tufts’ Director of Emergency Management, said.
“TEMS’ purpose there is only to help you medically and provide you with the medical care you need,” senior Laurie Merker said. “We want to make it very clear that we are not involved in the disciplinary part of that.”
Most TEMS calls do not require disciplinary action, though. Of the 486 calls TEMS received last school year, alcohol-related calls composed just about a quarter — the largest proportion of a specific kind of call, but not the majority. Other kinds of calls included those for abdominal pain, fainting and difficulty breathing, Kaufman said.
“I think it is important for people, from someone who turned their ankle on a step to occasionally a serious emergency, to understand that TEMS is there for them,” Bartlett said. “A lot of the value for TEMS comes from the calls that they respond to that maybe are not emergencies.”
TEMS volunteers cannot discuss the specifics of calls with each other beyond discussions about medical care, Kaufman said. Outside of those at the scene, the only person fully informed about what happens at each call is TEMS Medical Director Stacey Sperling, a Health Services Physician who receives the reports that TEMS volunteers file after each call.
“There is a very high probability that we will know the patient, know the patient’s friends,” Kaufman said. “It adds an extra level of necessary privacy that we need to be extra careful about.”
To keep an eye on the campus’ emergency medical care, Sperling goes through each report — such reports are called “run sheets” — with the corresponding TEMS volunteers. She also gives a monthly lecture, on a topic of TEMS students’ choice, further benefiting the quality of TEMS’ emergency medical care.
“The students have a very good understanding of what is going on when they come onto the scene,” Sperling said. “These kids are so dedicated, so smart, so earnest and interested in giving really good emergency service to the campus.”
As a TEMS volunteer, students attend four training sessions, each two to three hours, per semester. New members get additional practice at office hours with senior members of TEMS.