Nov. 27, 2017
By Laura Reindl and Amanda Rowe
Like many college students, Shelby Schaefer is no stranger to late nights that stretch into early mornings. Unlike most students, though, she sees a lot of them through the window of an ambulance. Schaefer, a junior biological chemistry major at Binghamton University, is part of the Bunk In Program with the Vestal Volunteer Emergency Squad, where she volunteers as an emergency medical responder covering three ten-hour overnight shifts a week. In return, she lives at the station free of charge and gains incredibly valuable hands-on experience in the emergency medicine field.
Schaefer says that at the end of her sophomore year she was looking for opportunities that would be personally rewarding while also strengthening her medical school application. "I came across EMT [Emergency Medical Technician] training and realized how easy it really was to get [certified]; it's only one class — one semester basically. I took it over the summer at [SUNY Broome] and I really enjoyed the class — I really loved it — and then immediately, right after that, I got involved with Vestal Volunteer Emergency Squad."
The Bunk In Program is designed for college students who are interested in emergency medicine. The requirements for interested participants are only that they are a full-time student (undergraduate or graduate), hold a valid driver's license and CPR card, and commit to covering the three shifts a week. "I started volunteering with Vestal about halfway through the summer. I got my aide [certification] and became a driver within a span of like three weeks, because I was there all the time. Now I'm living there and working on becoming a crew chief." As an aide, Schaefer can drive the ambulance with a patient in the back and is familiar with the equipment in the back of the truck so that she can assist the crew chief (the certified paramedic or EMT). Becoming an EMT-certified crew chief means she will be able to run calls that come in classified as Basic Life Support.
And all of this is on top of taking 16 credits of chemistry classes at Binghamton University, where she is also the vice president of Active Minds, a student group that addresses the stigma around mental health issues. "It is a lot," says Schaefer, "but I have a passion for it. I love it. And, you know, we get two or three calls a night, but I still get to sleep. And I only have 3 hours of class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday, so it's really not that big of a deal in terms of me being able to go home and get a nap in. So, I do a lot, but I think that, because I like doing all the stuff that I do, it kind of balances out."
While emergency medicine is her current career goal, Schaefer also says that thanks to her experience with Active Minds she could see herself becoming a psychiatrist. "I think it's really important that we change the whole conversation around mental health because right now, it's not the best."
Whatever career she ends up in, Schaefer is sure that it will include some aspect of what drew her to emergency medicine in the first place. "We get to see people on their worst days. When they call us they are feeling that...that is their worst day. Then we get there, and we get to help make that day better. So maybe there's this older lady who's fallen and she hit her hip and it hurts. Maybe the hip's not broken but she's in pain. We get to take her to the hospital and make her feel better and talk to her and really get her through that experience. And I think that, more than anything, is the part that I love. I like knowing that we have made someone's day better."
Students interested in the Bunk In Program can contact the Vestal Volunteer Emergency Squad at email@example.com or 607-748-6618.
Students interested in Active Minds can email the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.