From severe burns to bioterrorism, the First Responders program at the School of Medicine offers first-year medical students an opportunity to learn how they can contribute if disaster strikes.
Students begin working with patients early in their first year, but Mark D. Levine, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine and director of the First Responders program, said students feel unprepared about encountering an emergency situation.
“Medical students are interested in serving and getting involved in patient care,” said Levine, who also is medical director of the St. Louis Fire Department. “By providing an opportunity to learn about emergency medicine early in their medical careers, students’ desire to help can be supported by basic skills and knowledge.”
The events of September 11 reinforced the need for crises preparation, and that includes the training of medical students, said Robert J. Rothbaum, M.D. professor of pediatrics and coursemaster for “The Practice of Medicine,” of which First Responders is a part.
“Students need to be prepared to respond to various types of emergencies, whether that’s a car accident or bioterrorism, and need to be ready to step in and be of assistance to other medical professionals,” he said.
Students participating in the annual First Responders program rotate through four learning stations, spending about 25 minutes at each. The one-day course familiarizes students with common disaster scenarios and provides them with basic information about how to intercede.
The Patient Contact/Immobilization station allows students to practice the initial approach to a patient and provides hands-on contact (with their classmates as volunteers) in treating a mock accident victim while wearing protective gear.
The students learn how to provide in-line stabilization of a patient, correctly place a cervical collar and secure the patient to a backboard, with discussion about the risks of incorrect patient treatment. A tour and explanation of the equipment commonly found on an ambulance also is given.
At the second station, Disaster Medicine Concepts, students hear a brief lecture on the concepts of scene safety given by David Tan, M.D., instructor in medicine, medical director of Abbott EMS and a member of the Missouri Disaster Medical Assistance Team. They discuss who the scene commander is and to whom and how transfer of patients should occur.
The Environmental Emergencies station consists of a lecture with graphic images of burns, cold injury, electrical injury and mammalian/insect/snake bites, with a review of basic pathophysiology. Treatment do’s and don’t’s are examined from a medical-vs.-urban legend viewpoint.
At the final station, Stabilization, students get hands-on experience in treating the patient with controlled or uncontrolled hemorrhage and/or long bone fracture.
Students learn to apply direct pressure and bandages to each other and to splint arms, legs, ankles and fingers. Shock and pain control, as well as appropriate patient handling to protect the affected extremity, also are discussed.
First-year medical student Megan Denzel was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about helping out in an emergency. She says that while most medical students are aware of their abilities — what they can and can’t do — people often expect them to intervene when a medical situation arises.
“Our main responsibility is to be aware of available resources,” she said. “By learning that, we can be a help, not a hindrance.”