By Ed Brennen
For Berkeley, Calif., native Jon De Leon, it was a major reason why he came all the way across the country to attend UMass Lowell.
For alum Sean MacLeod, it taught him leadership and management skills that helped him land a coveted job at Big 4 accounting firm Ernst & Young.
The university’s award-winning Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program does more than provide professional-quality care to the campus community 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year. To the dozens of dedicated students who work as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) each year, the program provides real-world experience that propels them in a variety of career fields.
“It was one of my deciding factors in coming here,” says De Leon, a senior criminal justice major who recently helped UMass Lowell EMS add to its list of accolades.
Competing against more than 30 collegiate teams from across North America, UMass Lowell EMS finished second in the Physio-Control Skills Classic at the annual conference of the National Collegiate EMS Foundation (NCEMSF) in Philadelphia.
It was the university’s best-ever finish at the competition, which tests teams’ skill, teamwork and leadership in three simulated patient scenarios: medical, trauma and team-building.
“It was definitely a big surprise to finish second. I know I jumped in the air,” says Nathan Roberts, a senior biotechnology major from Oakham, Mass.
Roberts and De Leon were joined on the team by junior public health major Chris Gottschalk and Stephanie Zuber, a junior who is double-majoring in public health and biology.
“The reason we did so well is that we just did the same thing we do every day with our patients,” says Zuber, a Haverhill native who’s been a member of UMass Lowell EMS for two years. “We went through the assessments, got the histories and did the interventions. We’re a pretty tight team, so everything flowed well.”
UMass Lowell also was among 12 schools recognized at the conference as an EMS Ready Campus. The designation is for campus EMS agencies that go beyond regular patient care activity and incorporate emergency management education and preparedness activities. UMass Lowell received a bronze-level distinction, joining such schools as the University of Arizona, Johns Hopkins University and Wake Forest University. Only four schools received silver, while no school achieved gold.
Gottschalk, who prepared the university’s submission along with senior Ryan Corliss, says UML should achieve silver at next year’s conference after falling just short this year. In 2016, the EMS team received the Striving for Excellence award from the NCEMSF and was also recognized for Website of the Year. In 2014, UMass Lowell was designated a HeartSafe Campus for its commitment to training and awareness of emergency cardiac care.
Nearly 40 students work as EMTs for UMass Lowell EMS, which was founded as a student club in 1984 and has grown to include a cadet program for EMTs in training. It also provides supplemental emergency services for university events and offers CPR and first aid training to hundreds of people each year.
Led by Director of Life Safety and Emergency Preparedness Richard Wood and Asst. Manager for EMS Pat Kiley, 10 students attended the three-day NCEMSF conference, which attracted EMS organizations from more than 100 colleges and universities. Through expert panels, roundtable discussions and hands-on skills labs, students learned the latest in medical and trauma response, disaster preparedness and emergency management.
Gottschalk became interested in EMT work as a high schooler in Everett. He worked for a private EMS company for three years before joining UMass Lowell EMS last year. Besides being paid a small stipend for each shift he works, Gottschalk’s counting the hours toward the pre-hospital time he needs to attend graduate school to become a physician assistant.
“This is a great way to get that practice. I’m learning so much,” Gottschalk says. “Plus, being able to respond to an emergency and providing help is also a good feeling.”
De Leon, the California native, became certified as an EMT his freshman year through a university-affiliated class offered at Middlesex Community College’s Bedford campus. He’s been a member of UMass Lowell EMS for the past two and a half years.
“There’s a nice family atmosphere here, and it’s a really good learning environment,” De Leon says. “It’s nice to be able to practice your skills while also giving back to the university and community, as well.”
In addition to organizing semi-annual training courses for UMass Lowell EMS staff and bringing in guest speakers, the group’s student leaders have also been trying to connect with alumni of the program.
One such alum, MacLeod, managed UMass Lowell EMS for three years – two years as a student and then one more year after earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Manning School of Business in 2016. The Tewksbury native had to step down after landing a job at Ernst & Young in Boston last summer, although he’s been actively trying to build an alumni network. Last fall, he organized a small reunion at River Hawk Homecoming.
“I definitely gained leadership and management experience from the program that I wouldn’t have got any other way,” MacLeod says. “I learned about things like conflict resolution. Skills most people don’t get until they’re 10 years out of school, I got while I was still in college. I was much more prepared to go into the business world, where I’ve been able to leverage that experience.”