Throughout my high school career at POLAHS, I have had the privilege of exploring various areas of study and career fields, and have found a special passion for emergency medicine. Having expressed this sentiment to my teachers, administrators, and mentors - and thanks to them - I have also had the opportunity to broaden the gamut of my experience and education in the medical field.
The Wilderness First Responder Course (WFR) is considered the definitive wilderness course in medical training, leadership, and critical thinking for leaders in rigorous emergency medicine such as military personnel, professional search and rescue teams, researchers, and those involved in disaster relief. As such, this course was beyond rewarding for me, as I had the opportunity to learn from the very best in the field and master the fundamentals of life-saving practices. I was very excited that I would be taking the course in Maine, as it would be my first time in the state and I would enjoy the new environment that it had to offer. Maine was beautiful and I enjoyed every second of being there.
The course was held on Gay Island, one of the many in Maine's Atlantic archipelago. I arrived in Portland on the weekend and prepared for the course with pre-coursework and a preliminary exam a week prior. On Monday morning, I made my way to Friendship where I would be transported by boat to the island along with other students. Upon arrival, I was honestly surprised by the lodge we would be staying in. It was a 7 room cabin with a very spacious living room and kitchen and all the amenities of a home. This made me feel very welcomed and allowed for all of us to take advantage of the entire length of the course, for example having lunch and dinner together at the dinner table and discussing what we had learned in more depth.
I was surprised at realizing that I was the youngest out of all of the participants, however, which included an environmental biologist, a CTE teacher, a rock climbing instructor, and a Ph.D. student, among others. I felt very honored to be among such distinguished people and was excited to learn alongside them. Our instructor was Jon Tierney, an experienced flight paramedic and a seasoned rock climbing instructor who teaches WFR and WEMT courses around the country.
Our 5-day course consisted of both lectures and hands on practice in the field. Every morning, we would have breakfast, followed with our morning lectures. During the morning lectures, Jon would cover sections of the curriculum and discuss the previous night's case studies which were assigned as homework. The case studies allowed us to think critically about the procedures and methods of care in an emergency situation where help is far away and expected to be protracted. We would complete the case studies independently and then discuss them as a group in the living room.
The island provided its natural landscape and wilderness to aid us in our simulations of emergency medicine in rural areas such as the backcountry. Every day after lunch, we would apply the skills and knowledge that we had learned so far around the island, and learn some more. One of my favorite moments was during a search and rescue simulation in which my team and I had to delegate tasks for each other to find our lost friends and bring them back safely. This tasked proved to be challenging, as wilderness medicine requires not only medical competence, but also the ability to work with others under stress and an unforgiving time constraint. Our task was to ensure our group's safety while assessing our "lost" friends and treating them on site. As a full simulation, we also had to call for emergency services and report a state of distress on the island through any means possible. In a real life situation like this, groups would expect to be stuck on the island for days without phone reception, limited food and water, and ailing rescuees.
At the conclusion of these simulations, we would head back to the lodge to debrief and follow up with other lectures. My favorite one of these was when we explored the nervous system and our body's incredible response to and recovery after life-threatening events. Did you know that after having experienced trauma, our brains can actually restore some of its functions if damaged? This phenomenon is called "plasticity."
Afternoon lectures were followed by mini simulations such as major wound cleaning and treatment, assessment and treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and rope/knot techniques for use in emergency evacuations in rural areas. Our curriculum was very extensive, and at one point I even had to simulate a drowning biker who had fallen off a cliff into the water. Soaked and cold, I awaited for help and got to put myself in the shoes of the patient, which allowed me to observe the procedures and decisions of others whose care I was under.
On the final day of the course, we took a lengthy exam that would determine our mastery of the content and our physical ability to perform emergency rescues and wilderness medicine. The exam included a written portion and hands-on/simulated scenarios similar to the case studies we had completed. Thanks to the time we had to study and my wholehearted interest in the course, I passed the exam and received my certification as a WFR.
I knew that I wanted to pursue emergency medicine during fall of my sophomore year. The semester prior, I was very fortunate to have received a $6,000 merit scholarship to attend a Summer Surgery Program at the University of California, Irvine, where I was exposed to the many types and sides of surgery. It was also at UCI that I had the honor of meeting my donor, a pediatric neurologist who shared with me her personal experiences about practicing medicine and her road to becoming an MD. In the following months, I was accepted into the volunteer program at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro, where I have been volunteering in the ER ever since. Additionally, I received my EMR certification from the NREMT (National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians) this summer, having completed my education at UCLA in the spring semester of my junior year. Learning from and shadowing some of the best physicians in the country had given me a sense of direction and resolved my interest in medicine and ever since these endeavors, I have truly fallen in love with the mission and passion shared by physicians in Emergency Medicine and those in Trauma Surgery.
I plan on pursuing a career in emergency medicine by majoring in Biology and minoring in Education at a four-year university after high school. I feel very prepared to continue this endeavor thanks to POLAHS, my donor/mentor, and the teachers that have instilled in me a passion for education and the desire to seek a future doing something rewarding and meaningful such as practicing medicine. After college, I plan on applying to medical school and earning my MD, hoping to become a fellow of the ACEP (American College of Emergency Physicians) or ACS (American College of Surgeons).
Special thanks to my incredible sponsor, Mr. Tim Barker, and POLAHS staff and administration.