Since last fall, students at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita have been taking to the air to learn about emergency medicine through a ride-along program with an air medical transport company.
In a rural state, emergency medicine often involves transporting patients needing certain procedures or life-saving care to larger, urban medical facilities by an air ambulance.
That’s why Cheryl Dobson, a third-year medical student at the school and co-founder of a student organization called the Wichita Emergency Medicine Interest Group, approached officials at EagleMed’s Wichita base in August to start the ride-along program. EagleMed is a privately owned air medical transport company operating more than 30 bases in 12 states.
“Our school’s mission is training doctors for Kansas, and often that means providing primary care in rural areas. The air ambulance can be an important component of emergency care,” said Dobson, who wants to be a family medicine doctor who also does emergency care in rural Kansas.
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Students also can ride-along with ground emergency transport crews.
Cindy Betts, a registered nurse and flight paramedic who is the base’s medical manager, said she’s unaware of any other ride-along program offered to medical students by EagleMed.
“We like to talk about our jobs and share what we do,” Betts said. “Sometimes we feel people in the hospital settings don’t know about what we do and the pre-hospital transport environment. The medical students we’re working with now may be people we see again in three or four years after working with us.”
While EagleMed uses a fleet of helicopters and Beechcraft King Air 200 planes for medical transport, the students are riding only in the airplanes. During transport, students have an observation role, while the two-member flight medical crew handles patient care.
EagleMed uses a fleet of helicopters and Beechcraft King Air 200 planes for medical transport out of Wichita’s Eisenhower airport.
The ride-alongs, scheduled for 12-hour shifts, have been popular among first- and second-year students, who spend most of their time learning in the classroom rather than actual clinical settings. More than a handful of students have worked the optional shifts into their schedule, and more than a dozen others have expressed an interest in doing the same, Dobson said.
Just like in any emergency medicine setting, sometimes a 12-hour shift means sitting around the base, waiting for a call. EagleMed’s Wichita base operates out of the Eisenhower National Airport.
During down times, crews have been willing to teach students about different procedures, allowing them to use the company mannequins and EagleMed’s aircraft simulator to watch and practice intubations and other procedures, Dobson and Betts said.
First-year student Casey McNeil has been nicknamed “the globetrotter” of the ride-along group. He has completed 35 hours of shifts that included a call to pick up a young heart transplant patient in Texas. His simulator time and learning about chest tubes from the EagleMed staff helped him better understand classroom lectures on the cardiovascular system, he said.
Autumn Smith, a second-year medical student, observed a transplant patient being flown from a major hospital in the Wichita area to an Omaha hospital. She was impressed with the collaboration and continuity of care from one hospital to a medical transport team to another hospital.
“As someone who wants to practice in rural Kansas, this experience adds to my decision-making process and will help me make better patient care decisions,” Smith said.
It was a really good way to remember why we are doing this and to see an actual patient being cared for rather than sitting through another PowerPoint presentation.
Tommy Robinson, first-year medical student
Tommy Robinson, a first-year student, did a shift in October, when a patient needing a heart-related operation was flown to Denver.
“It was a really good way to remember why we are doing this and to see an actual patient being cared for rather than sitting through another PowerPoint presentation,” Robinson said.