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When fire broke out at MIT’s One Broadway office building in December 2006, emergency medi­cal personnel arrived promptly–including the students on call at MIT’s volunteer Emergency Medical Services (EMS). EMS chief Rachel Williams ‘07 and a professional emergency worker quickly ran into the blazing building. “We went into the lobby of One Broadway, which was very smoky, and all the alarms were blaring,” Williams says. “It was pretty intense. We got our patient onto the stretcher and headed out the doors.” For hours, Williams and two EMS team members worked alongside professionals–evacuating hundreds of office workers, triaging the injured, and sending 30 to nearby hospitals. This was not a typical school day for an undergraduate.

“The Broadway fire taught me some interesting things about myself,” says Williams, now a medical student in West Virginia. “First, you never know how you’re going to handle a situation like that until you are actually there. I was glad to know that when it came down to it, I managed to maintain a cool head. The experience allows me to have confidence in myself that whatever may come, I can handle it.”

Practicing to Practice

Williams, a chemical-engineering major, says that her decision to become a physician was based on both her mother’s difficulties with cancer treatment and her own experiences with MIT-EMS. “I knew the medical field was where I was heading, but in an unexpected way, my experiences at MIT pushed me away from a strictly scientific view and toward [working] with patients,” she says. “MIT showed me the benefits and importance of human interaction. I think that’s the opposite of what outsiders perceive of the culture here.”

Getting to practice patient care before making a career decision is one of the payoffs for students who work for EMS or MIT’s MedLinks program. EMS involves 50 to 60 students who are responsible for ambulance services on campus. MedLinks is a peer health advocacy program that manages about 120 students who are trained to be first responders for student health problems–from mild fevers to depressive episodes–in their dorms and living groups.

MIT Medical, which hosts EMS, appreciates the students’ hard work and commitment in this volunteer role, says Maryanne Kirkbride, who serves as clinical director for campus life. “This lets them try the waters and see if they like patient care. It’s also good in terms of building a CV for medical school,” she says.

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Credit: John Wu ’06

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