First-year medical students John Ernst, Kinsey Barhorst and Andrew Rice were enjoying lunch in a grassy area near the Medical Sciences Building on the University of Cincinnati (UC) medical campus when the trio spotted a young woman in trouble.
"Suddenly, as she was walking past us she collapsed,” says Barhorst. "I was talking to John and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ We all stood up and ran over and then Andrew ran inside to get an AED (automatic electronic defibrillator).”
Ernst then began to check the young woman’s airway, breathing and circulation—a technique the medical students learned during their first week of medical school in their first responder training. The two-week lifesaving skill-based course, now in its eighth year, is required of all incoming medical students, and was held Aug. 13-24, 2018.
"I tapped on her and asked if she was OK and there was no response,” says Ernst. "
The trio was joined by another first-year medical student Grace Anastasio, who also offered assistance. The students were able to identify the woman and contact family members and friends to assist.
The women became responsive after about 15 minutes, says Barhorst. "She still wasn’t speaking, but she was alert and able to point and nod for ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We just sat with her until she came out of it and to make sure she didn’t hit her head,” says Barhorst. "We sat her up nice and slow so she wouldn’t fall down and injure herself.”
The women recovered, but the incident caught the medical students by surprise.
"Our first reaction was is this a drill?” recalls Ernst. "That was the first thing that raced through my head, is this a skills session? I thought, alright I guess it’s time we put some of these skills into practice and make sure this person is OK.”
Veronica Calhoun, associate course director of the first-responder training course and physician assistant in the UC Department of Emergency Medicine, says medical students over the years have witnessed traumatic events that require their assistance.
She says the College of Medicine’s first-responder course helps provide all incoming medical students with a basic level of medical knowledge since they will be required to work with patients during their four years of medical school.
"The First Responder course is a fast-paced intense two weeks based upon an emergency medical technician curriculum,” says Calhoun. "At the end of the course, we want the students to be able to tell if a patient is ‘sick versus not sick’ so that they can get additional help quickly, if needed.
"Traditionally, medical students were kept in a classroom for their first two years of medical school and were then beginning their clinical rotations in third year with very little knowledge or confidence when interacting with actual patients. This course is designed to teach real physical skills to help the patients,” says Calhoun.
The first week of the course is focused on common chronic medical conditions and acute presentations of medical emergencies, explains Calhoun. The second week then switches focus to trauma. The students learn many tangible skills such as CPR, basic airway management, splinting, immobilization and bleeding control.
"We have consistently received feedback over the years that the students feel more comfortable starting their clinical rotations after going through this course,” says Calhoun. "We know it works because, over the years, students have been called upon to use these skills in situations such as motor vehicle accidents, heart attacks, falls and, in this case, a witnessed collapse.
"Watching the students grow in skills, knowledge and confidence over those short two weeks makes me so proud,” says Calhoun.
For Ernst the use of his first-responder skills served as a harbinger of things to come. Ernst hopes to someday practice emergency medicine.
"I want to be someone who is dependable and functioning in emergent situations,” says Ernst. "I think especially in emergency medicine, you can’t be someone who panics or freaks out during a traumatic situation. You have to be put together and have mindset to assess a situation quickly. I never want to be someone who just freezes, but be someone who can do something about it.”
Rice says the first responder program certainly passed the test.
"I thought it was pretty good,” says Rice. "It was definitely fairly laid back which I thought was kind of nice. Not only is it our introduction to medical school but we are getting to know each other. It is nice we can do something that is very hands on and very practical as well. I think this is the reason a lot of us get into medicine and that is to be able to do something in these situations. To learn this information right off the bat speaks well of UC and makes us excited to come here.”