Most typical college students spend their time studying, completing schoolwork, worrying about majors, and maybe trying to squeeze in a social life between exams. But 19-year-old Jessica DeMarzo, EMT-B, is anything but typical, and those things only satisfied part of her; she found herself wanting to do more.
So in the fall of 2011, the first semester of her college career, the Purchase College, State University of New York undergraduate decided to start a collegiate EMS program on campus.
“It was one of the first things I wanted to do when I got to college,” DeMarzo says. “I wanted to find an EMS program and, if they didn’t have one, then I wanted to make one.” When she found out the school didn’t have such a program, she set about putting one in place.
For most, this kind of initiative would seem extraordinary, let alone embarking on such an ambitious undertaking in the first semester of college. But for those who know DeMarzo, this kind of drive and determination is just part of her DNA.
While in her senior year of high school, when most were concentrating on applications to colleges and the senior prom, DeMarzo was busy getting her EMT certification. Being exposed to an EMS environment through her job at the Northvale Ambulance Corp. in Northvale, N.J., and seeing how an ambulance agency runs, gave her the impetus to start a similar program when she got to college. When one of her friends became gravely ill, she knew the time had come to develop such a program.
“I witnessed a few medical emergencies on campus my freshman year, and because the transport agency covers such a large area of the state, they can take up to a half-hour to get to campus,” she says. “One of the medical emergencies I first witnessed on campus involved one of my friends, and I remember waiting for 20 minutes for the ambulance. It lit a fire under me to start an EMS service on campus more quickly than I was expecting to.”
Purchase College draws 4,000 students a year from around the world to participate in its liberal arts and sciences programs, which are taught by 300 faculty members. The school boasts an environment where students can “develop their talents, expand their minds, and prepare for a life of creative independence.” In short, it seemed to DeMarzo to be a perfect place to introduce a new EMS concept in the form of an oncampus EMS agency.
Starting a collegiate program from scratch can be daunting, so DeMarzo opted to piggyback on existing resources. “My idea was to supplement the system already in place and provide more immediate care on campus,” she says.
DeMarzo knew that developing such a program, and making it effective, would take permission from a variety of agencies willing to work together toward a common goal. Although such a commitment sounds noble, getting everyone to agree on, and support, such an initiative can be challenging, to say the least. But DeMarzo was unfazed by the challenge.
“I contacted a few people on my campus to see who could help me go about doing it,” she says. Those “few” people included university police, college administrators, student health services, the Purchase College Council, Harrison EMS and the Albany office of the State University of New York. She also spoke to her college advisor and several student friends as added support.
“It was difficult at first to track people down and see who could help with the creation of this,” she says. “A lot of people said yes, it was a great idea, but they didn’t know what their role would be, and they weren’t sure how they could help.” DeMarzo didn’t give up. She pulled in advisor Justin Herminghouse and fellow student Teddy O’Rourke, and the three joined forces. “We joined together and started speaking out to people who could help,” she says. “Everyone was very receptive and really pushed for this to happen.”
A year and a half after DeMarzo had the idea, the Purchase College Emergency Medical Services program launched in the fall of 2012. The newly minted EMS service started responding to calls in early 2013. Currently, the small group of responders is working with Harris EMS, as Purchase has worked out a partnership agreement with this local EMS service.
Looking to Grow But DeMarzo’s vision for the fledgling medical service goes far beyond responding to a few campus medical emergencies, using a handful of students. “Personally, I’m hoping to not just respond to medical emergencies on campus, but to also inform and train more students,” DeMarzo says. “I’d also like to educate the campus about emergency situations and make sure everyone is more prepared for them, even if it means just being on hand for the medical emergencies, if needed.”
The Purchase College EMS program is currently being funded through the campus student government and has a budget of $6,000, which DeMarzo finds generous but would still like to see expanded. To meet her goal of developing, coordinating, improving and maintaining a comprehensive and dynamic collegiate EMS system on campus, one that will help reduce premature death, disability and injury while training more students to participate, the program will need to grow, and that will take more money.
“Everyone is very behind us, and we’ve gotten a lot of support. We’ve gotten a lot of equipment,” she says. “Right now we are walking to the scene because we don’t have a vehicle. While we have the yearly budget that we requested, we will need funding for additional equipment and supplies.” She is hoping to get the budget bumped up in the future to get more people trained, bring more people in to talk to students, and to expand the service more toward the campus in general.
It’s the training aspect of the program that has DeMarzo’s greatest attention right now. She and her team are developing new standards around the medical care they offer, and having members trained properly is of utmost concern. “We are not only training our responding members, but we are hoping to train all the paraprofessionals, students, staff, and resident assistants, as well as service and club heads,” DeMarzo says. “We want to train anyone who has a role in helping students out day-to-day or in emergencies.”
To achieve this goal, the school EMS program is providing training that focuses squarely on specific issues, including liability and confidentiality concerns, CPR and AED practices, drug and alcohol safety, prehospital care, disaster readiness and fire prevention. The emergency medical practice training is open to all students and faculty on campus. In the near future, DeMarzo and others in the program will be certified to teach and certify others in CPR, AED and first aid. Those who become certified will then be able to train others.
Building on Success
DeMarzo wants to be clear that she founded the Purchase College EMS program not because the existing EMS services were substandard. Rather, the services were effective but stretched too thin. Her idea is to build on an already solid structure, one that can enhance emergency medical care to college students and faculty at the school.
“While the system in place is effective, I felt like it could be so much more effective if we had another step put into it,” she says.
DeMarzo expects to graduate from Purchase in 2015, when she will pursue paramedic certification. Where she will do that, and where she will end up, is anyone’s guess. What won’t be surprising are the drive, competence and intelligence that DeMarzo’s employer will find once they hire her.
“I love what I do, and from the moment I started riding on an ambulance and helping people, I knew it was something I would never get tired of,” she says. “Just knowing that on people’s worst days, I can try to make it a little better, is one of the main reasons I do what I do.”