Knowing How to Help

Sometimes, on warm Saturday mornings, I ride my bike along the beautiful Swamp Rabbit Trail to the local Farmer’s Market downtown. It’s great to get outside and enjoy some exercise and fresh local produce, and there are always lots of people running, walking, and biking along the trail.

 While I was riding one particular Saturday morning several weeks ago, I happened to see a man get toppled by his dog’s leash, and from a distance I watched as he fell hard onto the asphalt. He groaned and didn’t get up. As a medical student, I instinctively stopped and helped, although as I moved toward him I quickly realized that I had absolutely no idea what I could do to help in that situation.

Honestly, it was a perplexing moment for me. Like so many of my classmates, I entered medicine hoping to come out as a physician able to “help” people in some capacity. In that moment though, I realized just how much practical knowledge and skills I didn’t have. In the midst of filling my brain with details of organic chemistry and physics to take the MCAT and get into medical school, I had never taken the opportunity to learn tangible ways to help people. In that moment, I ended up just standing awkwardly, not sure what questions to ask, or what physical symptoms to take note of, or anything at all. I just stood there and thought, “I am a medical student and I have no idea how to help….”

Fast forward four weeks, and it’s a different story, thanks to our innovative curriculum and EMT training. I realized this difference firsthand recently as I was again riding my bike one afternoon with a classmate and a professor from medical school. As we were riding, we came upon an intersection crowded with ambulances and fire trucks. We saw a battered car with a shattered windshield parked askew in the middle of the intersection. Immediately, I knew that if EMS personnel had not been present, I absolutely could have helped. My classmate and I looked at the wreck with newfound appreciation for the work of the first responders, and we also mentally ran through the way that we would have approached such a scene and patient assessment.

Nerdy? Yes, a little bit, and our professor chuckled as he sensed our minds applying everything that we’ve been learning for the past month in EMT training and anatomy class. Even so, I found it amazing to see how just a few weeks in class has prepared me so well to tangibly help people, which is, after all, a big part of why I chose to pursue a career in medicine in the first place.


Rachel Nelson


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