August 31, 2011

Cornell Ends Instruction in Emergency Services

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Cornell’s Department of Physical Education has indefinitely cut its course offerings in emergency medical services and first responders certification, terminating on-campus access to a program that taught life-saving skills.Since the program’s inception, hundreds of Cornell students have learned basic patient assessment and treatment, CPR, bleeding control and other emergency responder techniques for credit on campus. Now, however, many involved with the program worry that fewer students will graduate with the practical training necessary to save a life. “It’s very sad we had to lose this program that put 40 EMTs on the streets of New York every year,” said Andrea Dutcher ’87, associate athletic director for physical education and recreation.Dutcher said the cuts were “strictly a budget decision.”“The athletic department needed to reduce its cost, and so [EMS instruction] was a program that was eliminated,” she said. “It was an extremely popular program with a very popular instructor, but the economic climate of the University requires departments to trim their costs. When that happens, departments have to make very painful decisions.”Students and EMTs involved in the course offerings said the cuts would have serious reverberations on pre-medical students’ experiential learning, the EMT re-certification process and the Cornell community’s safety. Others disagreed on the impact of the cuts on the Cornell University Emergency Medical Service, a student-run volunteer organization that draws heavily from course graduates.

CUEMSJacob Solomon ’12, director of CUEMS, said he did not think the organization’s recruitment would be diminished by the cut.“It does make it very hard for us to find training,” Solomon said. “Honestly, it’s a big loss for Cornell but we don’t think we’ll be drastically hurt by it.”But because EMTs must periodically take refresher courses to stay certified, student EMTs expressed concern about how they would renew their certificates now that Cornell does not offer the classes.

“It will be a significant hassle getting re-certified towards the end of next year, especially when there isn’t a refresher course offered back on campus,” said Sandy Ghosalkar ’14, a CUEMS member. “If there isn’t a refresher course on campus, the only place you can do it is at home, unless you have a car here and can drive to the community college.”

Patrick Sullivan, an EMT with the Varna Fire Department who has helped teach the course, agreed.“CUEMS relies on this class as the engine for creating its newest class of emergency workers … and now that engine is gone,” Sullivan said, adding that going to Tompkins Cortland Community College or another off-campus agency would make obtaining certification difficult.Oliver Jacob ’12, who completed Cornell’s EMT course and is now working for Bangs Ambulance, also worried about how the changes would hamper students’ ability to get involved with EMS.“Cornell EMS itself will survive, but [cutting the program] is a detriment to students who would like to be able to volunteer and give back to their community but no longer can,” Jacobs said.

Campus safetyIn addition to making it more difficult for students to obtain EMT training, the course cuts have raised questions about how campus safety will be impacted.“The college is allegedly going on a big kick about safety first and about how we’ve got to keep these kids out of the gorges, and one of the very, very first things that we teach, that we hammer on, is safety,” Sullivan said. “You get x amount of people out there with a critical mass of knowledge that it pays to be safe, and now Cornell is cutting the class … That doesn’t seem safe.”Harris Nord ’12, executive director of the Cornell Concert Commission — which uses CUEMS services at its events — expressed concern about how organizations would be able to replace student volunteers’ services at campus events.“It’s really a shame that Cornell is hurting an organization that volunteers its time to help other students,” Nord said.

Pre-med studentsRichard Kniffen, former director of EMS Education and coordinator of Health and Safety Services, worried that cutting the program would hurt pre-medical students, who made up the majority of his classes.“Being pre-med, it’s an opportunity to them to practice emergency medicine, get a really good background and understand what they’re getting into,” he said.Anthony Nguyen ’14, a pre-med student, said that working for CUEMS reaffirmed his beliefs about wanting to become a doctor.“EMS teaches you a lot about teamwork and basic life support which is the foundation for working in a hospital,” Nguyen said.Sullivan added that pre-med students “love this kind of class for making their resumes look good.”Sullivan also questioned the financial calculation in cutting the courses, which he called “essentially self-funding,” given that students must already pay a $975 fee. Approximately 40 students took the EMS training course last year, Kniffen said.But Dutcher, the administrator in the physical education department, said the program was expensive.“I don’t believe at this time that the athletic department is considering reinstating the program — maybe down the road if the economic climate reverses itself,” she said. “But at this point, I’m not optimistic they will.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein