Weinberg first-year Arya Prachand hard at work on an ambulance ride-along shift. Photo Courtesy of Arya Prachand

Arya Prachand sat with a 6-year-old boy who had nearly overdosed on drugs, monitoring his vitals as the ambulance raced from an emergency medical center to a hospital. The Weinberg first-year was responding to the last call of her 13-hour shift as an Emergency Medical Technician trainee, and it was her highest-stakes response yet.

Prachand is part of the Northwestern Emergency Medical Organization, a student-run club that partners with Medical Express Ambulance Service to provide students with emergency medical training. The 95-student course, which Prachand applied for in the fall, runs from January to May and culminates in the upcoming National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam in June. Should she pass the test, Prachand will be able to apply for an Illinois EMT license.

The course consists of two meetings per week, one in-person and one virtual, and two total ride-alongs in an ambulance throughout the program. Although the ride-alongs are usually on Basic Life Support ambulances, which are non-emergency transportation vehicles, Prachand switched to an Advanced Life Support ambulance at the end of her first shift.

“It really showed me how it was to work as an EMT,” Prachand said about responding to the child who had overdosed on the second ambulance. “It was a sad case, but it was very interesting.”

Prachand said she enrolled in the EMT training course to determine if she was interested in medicine. She is considering adding a Biological Sciences major on top of her Political Science major.

“I thought that taking a class like that would have a more practical approach and get me straight into it,” Prachand said. “I like learning hands-on stuff.”

Jackie Brooks, the lead instructor of the course, said the course is helpful for applying to medical school because students gain experience working with patients in a clinical setting. Prachand said the certification will be useful whether or not she ends up applying.

“It’s not eight or more years of school and hundreds of thousands of dollars more,” Prachand said, comparing the course to medical school. “But you’re still helping people and making the city better.”

Prachand said working in pairs or groups during in-person class activities has strengthened her teamwork and communication skills, which Brooks said are essential for EMTs to have. Weinberg first-year Arjun Prabhakar usually partners with Prachand.

“She always works to the best of her ability despite the fact that it’s training and not the actual world,” Prabhakar said. “It shows that she can perform well even under pressure.”

One of the hands-on exercises Prachand and Prabhakar did together involved responding to a mock car accident. The simulation used the students’ friends as volunteer victims lying on the ground of a parking lot with fake blood poured on them. The pair of trainees had to label each victim based on their medical condition and decide which level of care to give each – and who was too injured to try to save at all.

“It looks like she knows what she’s doing and she’s taking it seriously,” said Weinberg first-year Mira Sundar, who is close friends with Prachand and acted as her pretend victim. “I think the fact that she's also just a very empathetic person helps.”

Prachand practices her skills even outside of class requirements. Her roommate and close friend, Weinberg first-year Abby Melaku, said Prachand often practices on her by taking her pulse and blood pressure.

“I see that she’s working very hard on it, and she devotes a lot of her time to EMT,” Melaku said. “She always seems super excited about everything and happy to tell me her news about it.”

No matter the path she takes, Prachand said the course has prepared her for future endeavors by teaching her both emergency procedures and interpersonal skills.

“I just want to have the ability to choose what I do,” she said. “It opens a lot of doors because experience is a really good teacher.”