Duane Wood submitted 2020-10-27

When I was a child, I never once imagined that I would save a life, and yet that’s exactly what I’ve done time and time again. Now I can’t imagine a career without such opportunity. In 2015 I attended the Future Medical Leaders of the US conference, where I was inspired by the actions and empathy of so many medical professionals and the amazing differences they were able to make in the lives of their patients. I realized that medicine was my calling and within a week of returning home I signed up for an ETT (Emergency Trauma Technician) course, completed it, earned an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification, and began volunteering.

Working as part of an EMS squad in rural Alaska has granted me a unique perspective into not only emergency medicine but also the mechanism with which the entire healthcare system operates. Rural medicine is something every healthcare provider should have experience with; the limited resources, powerful community connections, and quick thinking that all come with the job build you into something more then you thought you could be. It can change your thinking about healthcare, and ultimately, it can remind you why you first went into this field in the first place. Over my time working as an EMT I became all the more passionate about doing right by my patients, and solving the lack of providers in my hometown, and so I became AHA BLS instructor certified, and began offering CPR and first aid courses to locals who needed them.

Despite the number of emergencies that I have dealt with I can still be taken off guard, as can ANYONE, no matter their experience. We train, practice, and simulate scenarios for days, months and even years, but when something actually happens all too often our minds shut down and our emotions can overwhelm us. That’s why the first thing you need to do in an emergency is breathe and think. In my experience most people want to help a bad situation but either freeze up or act impulsively, both of which can only make a bad situation worse. In order to succeed you must think rationally, survey the situation, determine the best course of action, and then follow through with that plan. If possible before-hand, consider likely emergencies that may arise when a patient comes to you for help. Visualizing scenarios and considering what actions you should take allows you to prepare in advance and saves time when something does happen. This is also why we use simplistic mnemonics such as the ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) for working in high pressure environments, so we have something easy and basic to jog our memory and our training.

Safety is another simple aspect often forgotten in an emergency, not only for the patient, but for the provider as well. Many providers abandon their own safety in an emergency, putting themselves at undue risk in order to serve their patients and save lives. Self-safety needs to be at the forefront of a providers mindset since if the provider becomes injured, that leaves one less individual to care for the patient, and potentially an entirely new patient for providers to care for.

Communication across not only a team but between disciplines and to others is also necessary. Healthcare is a “team sport” where we are all working together for one common goal: patient welfare. Getting others involved when an emergency arises is a simple but often overlooked step in the process. The “bystander effect” often occurs in emergencies where people wait for someone else to take the initiative. Simply calling out “Help!” will often not be enough to break this spell, in my experience directly pointing to someone, saying their name, and relaying what you need works well in this aspect. Remember that no matter how physically and mentally prepared or fit you are, most emergencies can’t be handled alone, and all emergencies benefit from more steady hands to help.

That being said, emergency preparation is one of the best things we can do for our patients and ourselves. Most people will face at least one emergency in their life time, and healthcare providers are even more likely face hard decisions in the face of an emergency. Physical preparedness brings with it a confidence and mental preparation unattainable elsewhere. The more that we train, practice scenarios, and expand our skill sets; the faster we react, the better decisions we make, and most importantly, the better the outcome for all involved.

Emergencies happen, and they always will, but it’s our responsibility as healthcare providers to prepare as much as we can for when they do occur. Young me couldn’t have imagined the good things that I’ve already done for my patients, and today I look forward to where my career in Pharmacy will lead me. I’m confident that through my training, experiences, and confidence, I’ll be able to handle whatever emergencies come my way.