Feature Stories

Spirit Impact

If you have the misfortune of getting hurt or falling ill on the Texas A&M University campus and require emergency medical care, individuals between the ages of 18 and 23 are on standby to help.

And know this: You are in good hands.

“When I was a freshman, my roommate had an asthma attack and passed out. I had to call 911,” said Caitlin Stibbe ’08 (left), a Texas A&M EMS paramedic. “The dispatcher kept me calm and guided me through questions to get the pertinent information for my roommate. I thought what the 911 dispatcher did for me was incredible, and when I found out that Texas A&M EMS trained their own 911 dispatchers, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Texas A&M Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is a serious example of the “other education” at Texas A&M University. Aggie students work as emergency medical technicians (EMTs),

dispatchers or paramedics, and many are cross-trained for a combination of positions. They prepare for careers as first responders in medical emergencies and gain hands-on experience serving others (and sometimes saving lives), all while attending college.

It’s one of many campus organizations supported in part by donors to the Texas A&M Foundation.

“Whether a rolled ankle, a medical trauma or a student overloaded with finals having an anxiety attack, we approach every patient with the same level of compassion and care,” said Andres Urrutia ’14, a former student EMT and management major who is pursuing a career in medicine.

The origins of this highly trained and dedicated team can be traced back almost 40 years to a student organization called Texas A&M Emergency Care Team (known as TAMECT or Care Team).

An All-Encompassing EMS

The Care Team began as a volunteer student organization in 1976 to provide first responder care on campus. Less than two decades later, two additional volunteer organizations emerged: Texas A&M EMS and Rec Sports Medics. Texas A&M EMS provided ambulance service, while Rec Sports Medics served intramural sports and large-scale special events on campus. The volunteer aspect became an issue when a growing need for around-the-clock services strained the organizations’ abilities to meet demand.

“When I was a student, Texas A&M EMS was a volunteer service,” said Caitlin Stibbe ’08, who worked as a student EMT and dispatcher, earned her paramedic certification and worked in Houston before coming back to Texas A&M EMS as a full-time paramedic. “The sheer amount of hours required to run the service (lights are on 24/7/365) was daunting and detrimental to students trying to simultaneously focus on their academic careers.”

Care Team members Dimitri Dobroskok ’17 (left), Michael Williams ’17 (right) and Alejandra Rodriguez ’17 practice backboarding a patient.

Today, all emergency medical services—ambulance services, intramural and special event crews, and the Care Team—fall under the Texas A&M EMS umbrella. Operating as part of Student Health Services, EMS employs about 10 full-time staff, including three full-time paramedic staff, and 90 student EMTs, paramedics and dispatchers.

As part of Texas A&M EMS, the Care Team today serves as a student entry to emergency medical services on campus and provides entry-level training and experiential learning opportunities for those interested in careers in the medical profession. Its 50 to 60 members are required to learn CPR, advanced first aid and how to deal with blood-borne pathogens in addition to completing courses in the Health Act. And they seek to share what they learn.

“As a student organization, we also have a service mission,” said Lauren Hittson-Smith ’16, a Care Team member and student EMT who oversees external education. “Every year, Care Team members teach CPR and first aid courses to various campus and community groups.”

By volunteering for special events, Care Team members accrue shadow or observation hours required on applications for medical, nursing or physician’s assistant schools. Care Team members also have the option of earning their EMT certification and applying for a student EMT position with Texas A&M EMS. In 2014, nearly half of the special event medics (formerly Rec Sports Medics) came from the Care Team.

Always Prepared to Respond

With more than 1,000 events on campus and in the community each year, paramedics, student EMTs and Care Team volunteers see almost three times that number of patients annually. During the 2014-2015 academic year, they aided 2,859 patients. Most required only minor care, but about 40 needed an ambulance and another 100-plus cases required advanced medical training. In addition, ambulance EMTs and paramedics responded to about 1,000 emergency calls throughout the year.

“We are licensed at the same level as other area services. If you call 911 on campus, you can rest assured the ambulance will have a paramedic,” said Eric Leland ’15, the operations coordinator of EMS and a dispatcher for the organization who aspires to work as a full-time paramedic.

According to Leland, the group’s emphasis on training goes above and beyond. Because of this commitment, Texas A&M EMS ambulance service is rated as a Mobile Intensive Care Unit— the highest level of service possible, on par with hospitals and fire departments.

“One of the first emergency calls I had after becoming a student paramedic was a heart attack,” said Matthew Rushing ’06, an emergency medicine resident physician at Baylor College of Medicine. “I was nervous, but the call went well. The patient we transported had a blocked artery reopened at the hospital with a good outcome. It was a very rewarding feeling, and I was surprised to receive a personal note from one of the university vice presidents several weeks later recognizing us for our work.”

For Leland, the adrenaline of the actual call is powerful, but the feeling that he helped someone in need lasts even longer. “I enjoy running into patients after I cared for them,” he said. “After seeing them on one of their worst days, it is rewarding when I see them at HEB or in class with their lives returned to normal.”