Central Floridians forced to flee their homes during a hurricane are getting help from UCF’s physicians in training.
Under a new partnership with Seminole County Emergency Management Services, 20 of our M.D. students have been certified as emergency responders to provide triage services at local shelters during natural disasters.
Just weeks after completing their training, six of our medical students helped evacuees from September’s Hurricane Dorian. They worked at two Seminole County special needs shelters – at Bentley and Highland elementary schools – that catered to patients who rely on essential medical equipment, have mobility issues, and have other medical needs.
“Little did we know when they completed their training that their services would be needed so soon,” said Dr. Richard Peppler, Interim Vice Dean and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, who helped coordinate the new program. “The students responded in an outstanding manner for the needs of those displaced by Dorian, amidst their own safety and their coursework this semester.”
Students helped with patient check-ins, checked on patients’ vitals, and helped reassure evacuees that they were safe and in good medical hands.
“It was a great learning experience,” said first-year medical student Elliot Cheung, who was an EMT before coming to medical school. “I tried to be helpful, setting up stations, helping patients check in and help with their vitals, and helping the nurses to move patients who had mobility issues,” said Cheung, who spent three days at Bentley and was an EMT before coming to medical school. “This was a great opportunity for us to help the community. I was able to put some of the skills I have been learning so far to good use and to help someone in their time of need.”
First-year medical student Kari Shaver volunteered at Highlands with two other UCF medical students and worked closely with the shelter’s assigned doctor. “Even though it meant being away from home and worrying about my parents who were on the East Coast in Titusville, I saw it as a good way to give back to the community,” she said. “As medical students, we were not only able to assist with providing medical care but also to comfort patients, to sit with them, and reassure them that things are going to be okay.”
After the storm, Sarah Alvarez Wright, site manager for the Bentley shelter, emailed the College of Medicine to say thank you for the students’ help.
“They were responsive, available, attentive, willing and able to do anything asked of them,” said Alvarez Wright, who is Executive Community Health Nursing Director with the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County. “They became Department of Health family from the moment they checked in. We were truly blessed to have them.”
The idea of training medical students as emergency responders came from one of our volunteer faculty members – Dr. Todd Husty, assistant professor of emergency medicine. Dr. Peppler anticipates having 20 to 30 medical students certified each year and hopes to expand the certification to other healthcare students – including nursing, social work, and physical therapy – who are part of UCF’s new Academic Health Sciences Center.
“What better way to give back to the community that so graciously supports the education of our professional students?” he said.
Deborah German, M.D. is the Vice President for Health Affairs and Founding Dean of the UCF College of Medicine.