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Student EMTs Answer the Call on Rice University Campus

The group launched in 1996 and the 75 students now form Rice EMS—until recently—the only full-time student-run emergency medical service in Texas. The students are all state and nationally certified Emergency Medical Technicians.

Rice University Flickr
(TNS) - One day a week, senior Nick He drives around Rice University's campus in a Chevy Tahoe loaded with medications, a defibrillator and a foldable stretcher.

His classmates know when He's on call with Rice Emergency Medical Services: He wears a uniform to lectures and labs and a patch on his shoulder indicating he's an advanced emergency medical technician. On those days, He goes to sleep with his radio turned up, too bad for his suitemates.

"We're doing everything as normal," said He, an operations lieutenant and member of the Rice EMS in-charge team. "If that call comes in, we drop what we're doing and we go and help whoever needs help."

About 75 students make up Rice EMS, or REMS, which was until recently the only full-time student-run emergency medical service in Texas.

The students are all state and nationally-certified Emergency Medical Technicians, and they are distinctive for how much confidence their peers place in them: They are on track to respond to 1,000 calls this year, some of them noteworthy. (In late October, Rice EMS responded when an annual underwear-themed party at a residential college ended in dozens of students receiving on-site medical treatment and seven students being hospitalized for intoxication. Rice has an alcohol and drug amnesty policy.)

"A lot of people on campus do trust us a lot, because we are those peers, we are your fellow classmates," He said. "There's kind of this understanding."

He drives the Tahoe around the tree-lined campus on one of his on-call days in March, used to the SUV's bulky size. The car has to be with him when he's on shift so he can respond quickly if the need arises, and he has the luxury of parking places at Rice that others can't. On the same shift, other on-call students use a second Tahoe and five golf carts the same way, all packed with medical equipment.

This day is a quiet one during spring break, and He isn't expecting anything big. Rice counts more than 8,400 enrolled students and 3,700 employees, so the EMTs are busiest when class is in session. Other busy periods occur when the university hosts large events, such as commencement, football games, or in 2022, the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's "moonshot" speech at Rice Stadium.

"There's still unexpected days," said Lisa Basgall, a faculty member and director of Rice EMS. "You think you're going to handle five or 10 emergencies, and 50 patients later you're like, 'What happened?'"

Rice EMS is a popular program for students, with more people interested than the university can accommodate. They take at least one course for university credit that allows them to become officially licensed EMTs, and they then have the ability to treat people for medical emergencies the same way fire department paramedics would. About three in four of the students are pre-med, deliberately investing their time in a training ground for their future careers. Others are in fields like public health, or even the humanities.

For He, the work will continue after graduation at another EMS agency as he gets ready for med school during a gap year. Emergency medicine is high up on his list of potential careers.

"It's something that I've fallen in love with," He said. "It's really just made it very clear for me that something that I really want to do."

Collegiate EMS programs are not particularly common, with about 250 known to operate around the country, Basgall said. Most student EMS services in Texas operate at a more limited capacity, but Rice EMS is working 2 4/7, aside from two weeks between the fall and spring semesters. (Rice diverts a portion of student health fees to fund the program, Basgall said.)

The student EMTs get used to the pressure, especially with training that emphasizes approaching high-stress situations with a level head. This fall, students saved a resident assistant's toddler who was choking. Cardiac arrest situations sometimes arise, as do mental health calls and drug overdoses, Basgall said.

"The first times I was on shift, I was a little nervous waiting for the (radio) tones to go off," sophomore Nancy Johnson said. "But as I took more and more shifts, I became more comfortable. And now I don't have the nerves."

Students learn about Rice EMS during orientation, and the phone number is on the back of every Rice ID card. Rice staff member Micaela McGlone said she called the service for the first time in February when her 7-month-old daughter was having labored breathing, and she found the students to be professional and composed.

A fire truck and ambulance arrived well after Rice EMS, which ultimately recommended that McGlone and her daughter go to a hospital. The EMTs first made sure McGlone's daughter was safe to be taken in her own vehicle, she said.

"I'm grateful that I was able to call them and I didn't have to go through the normal system," McGlone said. "Rice EMS got there 20 minutes, 25 minutes before anyone else showed up."

The program also goes beyond emergency situations, taking a more forward-looking role in public health on Rice's campus. The EMTs manage the university's 65 public-access defibrillators and train people in how to use them. They also teach CPR classes regularly, with 15 percent of the campus population thought to be trained, by Rice EMS's count.

During COVID, the student EMTs switched into a new gear, delivering thermometers and meals to sick students and eventually providing hundreds of vaccines early on in the vaccine rollout.

The experience, for He, works well because it exists on a campus that emphasizes a "culture of care"—a Rice phrase that describes a supportive community.

"We all are looking out for each other," He said. "REMS is a really big part of that."


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