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St. Olaf EMTs win two national awards

The St. Olaf Emergency Medical Technicians (SOEMTs), pictured here, won two awards from the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation (NCEMSF).

When St. Olaf College students are in need of medical assistance, they can receive quick, professional care from an award-winning group of trained first responders right on campus. 

The St. Olaf Emergency Medical Technicians (SOEMTs) provide free medical assistance to the entire St. Olaf community. This spring the group won two awards from the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation (NCEMSF) at the 30th Annual NCEMSF Conference in Boston. St. Olaf Professor of Biology and Chair of Health Professions Committee Kevin Crisp was awarded EMS Advisor of the Year, and Margaret Dickey ’23 received the Collegiate EMS Research of the Year award for her research poster titled “Presumptive Diagnosis of Alcohol as the Etiology of Altered Mental Status in Collegiate EMS.”

The SOEMTs is a volunteer, student-run Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organization on campus. In addition to responding to medical emergencies and providing volunteer medical coverage, SOEMTs also offer informative classes on topics like CPR and first aid, among many more. 

“The EMT program here is an all-volunteer service, so these EMTs are doing this because this is something they’re passionate about. At a minimum, they’re all going through 150 hours of training to start this, and then there’s continuing medical education after that. The thing that makes it really different at St. Olaf is that these students are all here solely as volunteers, which means that we can accept as many as we want,” Crisp says. “We can have a very large service of individuals and offer this service on campus and know that they’re here because it’s something they’re really passionate about. It is not just a campus job or another organization — it makes a really big impact. That level of engagement, interest, passion, and seriousness about these responsibilities is very, very impressive, even at an impressive college.”

There are currently 38 active SOEMTs who have completed the required Emergency Medical Training (EMT) Basic certificate, an online course designed to train individuals in the skills and knowledge necessary to complete the EMT examination and become certified. Combined, all of the SOEMTs work 123 hours per week, minimum, and two students are on duty between 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. every weekday and 24 hours on weekends, with additional staffing provided at campus-wide events like the St. Olaf Christmas Festival or Pause dances. SOEMTs are dispatched by St. Olaf Public Safety for medical emergencies and are also under medical supervision from the Northfield Hospital.   

“The SOEMTs are important because they provide a sense of safety on campus. There are universities that don’t have this, and this is a really great thing for St. Olaf to have because it allows students to have access to free resources. It gives an opportunity for students to call, have someone respond in a few minutes, and check them out,” Dickey says. “I also think it’s a really great opportunity for the students who are involved because it provides us with opportunities for leadership and connecting with other people on campus like Public Safety or Health Services, and also with medical care — and getting that experience is really awesome.”

Award-winning research
Dickey enjoyed attending the NCEMSF Conference because she was presenting her own research and was able to see the impact her research project had. Dickey’s project examined whether SOEMTs tended to prematurely rule out alternative diagnoses for altered mental status if patients displayed signs of or reported consuming alcohol. She compared reports dating from 2015 to 2022 between situations that had alcohol involved versus instances where no alcohol was reported and looked at differences between how many of the six required vital sign checks EMTs completed. She found that when patients reported consuming alcohol, EMTs tended to perform 15 percent fewer vital sign assessments under the assumption that alcohol was the primary reason for a student’s altered mental status. 

“I honestly think what was most impactful about going to the conference was talking to the other EMTs and paramedics who were there,” Dickey says. “I would start presenting the project and I would say, ‘Sometimes people might think about alcohol as the primary cause for altered mental status for undergraduate students,’ and almost every person I talked to said, ‘Oh, crap, I’ve done that.’ I think that was really cool because this isn’t some weird niche that I’ve come up with; this is something that’s happening, and I’m contributing to help solve a problem that actually exists.”

An award-winning advisor
The SOEMTs also nominated Crisp for the EMS Collegiate Advisor of the Year award, winning two national awards their first year attending the conference. “That was a wonderful surprise,” Crisp says. “I got a text that they needed to talk to me right away. They were in the conference so I didn’t know what that was about. I was very, very flattered and honored. It’s rewarding enough just to have the opportunity to work with these students. But it was very, very much an honor, and I was surprised to get that award.”

Dickey also enjoyed attending the conference because of the connections they made with other universities around the country, noting that St. Olaf and Macalester are the only schools in MIAC with an active EMT service on campus that attended. “We feel isolated because it’s not that common in the Midwest to have on-campus EMTs, but on the East Coast, everybody has collegiate EMS, and so it was so cool to talk to other services.”

The SOEMTs were also able to interact with a wide variety of institutions offering diverse services like ambulance transportation and paid positions. Last fall the SOEMTs had contacted several collegiate EMS organizations to ask questions about their services, including the University of Arizona, which became St. Olaf’s mentor school. Because of this, the University of Arizona won the EMS Ready Gold Award for the year. 

“One of the really cool parts about going to the conference is that we had been in contact with a few collegiate EMS organizations in the fall asking them questions like: ‘How do you do scheduling? How do you check in for EMTs?’ The EMTs at the University of Arizona were super excited to help us, and they actually started to mentor us,” Dickeys says. “They’re helping us work on a mass casualty incident protocol, and they’ve given us some advice.”

Dickey is really passionate about pre-health and the SOEMTs because it provides an opportunity for students to work at different events together, handle medical emergencies, and share their love for medicine and interest in collegiate EMS.

“Honestly, SOEMT is my favorite thing on campus. I feel like there’s a lot of community because we’re all going through the same things,” she says. “Also being on the executive board has been an incredibly wonderful experience. We’re such a close-knit team. It’s my favorite meeting of the week, and I always look forward to it.”

Crisp also enjoys working with the SOEMTs and interacting with the executive members. “The students that I get to know best are the executives, and it is like working with colleagues that you really respect and look forward to working with every day. They’re smart, they’re compassionate, they’re thoughtful, they’re resourceful. They really really care about what they’re doing on campus, and they care about the health and safety on campus,” he says. “I would say, in a word, working with them is inspiring. What they’re doing is not like any experience I had in college — it’s really something — and I’m glad to see they’re getting some recognition for it.”