As Central Floridians prepared for Hurricane Dorian, six UCF medical students left the comforts of home to care for special needs patients at community shelters.
The six are among 20 College of Medicine students certified as emergency responders this summer through a partnership with Seminole County Emergency Management Services. The four-day training course was the idea of Todd Husty, a volunteer assistant professor of emergency medicine, who suggested medical students be trained to provide triage services at local shelters during natural disasters.
“Little did we know when they completed their training that their services would be needed so soon,” says 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.”
The students worked at two special needs shelters — Bentley and Highland Elementary Schools — that catered to patients who rely on essential medical equipment, have mobility issues and other medical needs.
“It was a great learning experience,” says first-year medical student Elliot Cheung, who spent three days at Bentley. “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.”
Cheung was an EMT before entering medical school. “This was a great opportunity for us to help the community,” he says. “This was my earliest opportunity to get to know the patient population as well as put some of the skills I have been learning so far to good use, to help someone in a 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 says. “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.”
Sarah Alvarez Wright, site manager for the Bentley shelter, was thankful for the students’ help.
“They were responsive, available, attentive, willing and able to do anything asked of them,” says Alvarez Wright, who is executive community health nursing director with the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County. “They became [part of the] Department of Health family from the moment they checked in. We were truly blessed to have them.”
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?” Peppler says.