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3 Questions with a student leader: Chief EMT Annie Dunham

MIT senior oversees a team of 50 EMTs
Annie Dunham, a senior studying chemistry, serves as chief of the MIT Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
Annie Dunham, a senior studying chemistry, serves as chief of the MIT Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
Photo: Thomas Gearty

When there are emergencies on campus, the MIT Police Department can dispatch MIT Emergency Medical Services (EMS), an on-campus organization dedicated to providing emergency medical support to the MIT community. Operating the MIT ambulance, student emergency medical technicians (EMTs) provide emergency service across campus. The chief of the EMTs is Annie Dunham, a senior studying chemistry. Originally from Wisconsin, Dunham hopes the skills she acquired as an EMT will guide her to medical school after she graduates in the spring. As chief, Dunham balances her school work with overseeing a team of 50 EMTs who handle more than 500 calls a year. She spoke with the Division of Student Life about her passion for emergency medical services and her volunteer work on campus.

What is MIT EMS?

MIT EMS is a student-run ambulance service made up of MIT-affiliated volunteers. We operate 24/7, and we serve the MIT community on campus and across the river in Boston. We can take people to any hospital in the Boston-Cambridge area — wherever they prefer, or we can make the decision if we need to. We also transport people to and from MIT Medical. We usually have about 50 EMTs in the program and we are always on call to cover campus medical emergencies. We also cover sporting events and anything where there's a large group of people and potential for injury.
MIT EMS is a unique organization because it is both a recognized ambulance service, as well as an MIT student group. We work closely with MIT Medical, through which we are licensed, to maintain our equipment, ensure care for our patients, and promote health and wellness on campus. We also work with MIT Police, the Environmental Health and Safety Office, and the Security and Emergency Management Office to maintain campus automated external defibrillators. As a student group, we work with the Division of Student Life and the Association of Student Activities who help support our recruitment efforts and activities on campus.

If anyone at MIT needs to get in touch with us, they can call x100 on any campus phone. Or if you aren't near a campus phone, you can call 617-253-1212, which is MIT’s emergency number that everyone should program into their phones. We're all Massachusetts-certified EMTs, but we work on a basic level. We all took a certification class, which is available every January. Through the course, you learn everything you need to know to be a first responder to any emergency medical situation. People that pass the class take the state written and practical exams. Once certified, our new EMTs go through a rigorous driver-training program and keep up their skills with continuing education classes and monthly drill sessions.

How did you get involved with the EMTs?

I've always been interested in emergency medicine, and I've always wanted to be an EMT but I never had the opportunity before I came here. When I saw that we had an actual student service on campus, I couldn't help myself — I had to do it. So, I took the class my sophomore year and got my certification.

I love being an EMT because I love being able to go into a scene and triage. I think my brain just works that way. You see what is wrong and you fix what you can and you make the situation better. There's also an element of adventure and excitement every day, and I like that. I work at least 40 hours a week. We don't require that from all members, but because we have new students every year who have to be trained, the members like me who really know what they're doing have to be there to train them. Some people can't believe I work so much — I talk to administrators about it and they say, "Wait — how many hours a week are you working? And you're still a student?" But it's what I really love.

What's a typical day like when you're on call?

When we're on call, we check in at our bunkroom in the basement of the Stata Center. The bunkhouse is our home base. It's where we go when we are on call. We have a couch there, bunk beds, and a computer. When our shift starts, we check in, get keys, and go through a list of things that need to be done to get ready for the day. Then we can do homework and hang out together while we wait for calls. The ambulance is just in the loading dock just down the hallway from the bunkhouse so if we get a call, we run out there, fire up our lights and sirens, and respond. Shifts usually last about four or five hours, but if you work the night shift, it's nine hours.

Since we're on a college campus, the people we serve are for the most part healthy undergrads and graduate students. We get a lot of calls about things such as sports injuries, students who are rundown from being at MIT, and problems with alcohol. When you look at just the raw data, we get an average of one-and-a-half calls per day, but it varies. For example, Monday mornings tend to be slower than Friday nights. Sometimes we have no calls all day, then five the next day. It's really hit or miss, but we aren't constantly going on calls. We spend a lot of time with each other in the bunkhouse, doing things like maintaining the ambulance, training new EMTs, and doing homework. We're a close group. When you spend that much time with each other, you get really close. Some of my best friends are the EMTs.

Applications are now open for the 2013 EMT class over Independent Activities Period. Students can apply online. To learn more about MIT EMS, visit the EMS website.

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