University of Colorado Pre-Med Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course

Name: Molly Cogan

Type of Project: Leadership-University of Colorado Pre-Med Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course

For my STEP project, I attended the University of Colorado Pre-Med Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course this past August. This two week intensive course included one week at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus where we had many lectures, skills labs, and guest speakers regarding the field of Emergency Medicine. During the second week, we backpacked in the Rocky Mountains at Camp Granite Lake where we practiced our Wilderness Medicine skills through many hands-on scenarios. After completing over 100 hours of training and passing the Wilderness First Responder certification test, I became a certified Wilderness EMT.

University of Colorado Wilderness First Responder Graduates

Going into the program I was very confused with what I wanted to do with my life. At the start of college, I was set on going to medical school after graduation and becoming a doctor. However, since freshman year, the more experiences I gained in the healthcare field, the more I began to question whether or not medical school right after graduation was really the best choice for me. Over the past couple of years my vision for a future career in medicine has become very blurred. Depending on the healthcare professional I talked to, I would be swayed to pursue a career in their field whether that be as a PA, MD, NP, paramedic, or nurse. With all of these options tossing around in my head, I was not sure what the right path to choose was or even if a career in healthcare was the right path at all.

Thus, I came into the program filled with questions and doubts about myself and future aspirations. However, over the two week program, I was able to hear from dozens of physicians, nurses, paramedics, NPs, and PAs about their careers in Emergency Medicine. I also got to shadow in the Emergency Department and participated in a variety of lectures where I learned clinical skills such suturing, doing a FAST ultrasound exam, splinting, and so much more. Hearing and seeing firsthand what work is really like in the Emergency Department helped me really hone in on my deepest passion that I want to pursue in my future: Emergency Medicine. Regardless of what position/career I decided to pursue, I am 100% sure that I want it to be in Emergency Medicine which is a decision I never would have come to without this program. After narrowing down that Emergency Medicine would be in my future, I also confidently came to the decision that after graduation I want to go to paramedic school and work as a street medic for a couple of years and then will apply to MD or PA school down the road. I went from having no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life to knowing with absolute confidence the career I want to pursue in the future because of my STEP project and I am so grateful for this experience because of that.

Shadowing Dr. Brown in the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Emergency Department

The first aspect of my STEP project that led to my transformation was the opportunity to have many conversations with doctors and paramedics who work in an Emergency Department or EMS. Listening and talking to dozens of healthcare professionals who were once in my shoes, but now working in their respective positions was so valuable. What I found even more fascinating was that several of the ED doctors, nurses, and PAs, worked as street medics in EMS for several years before advancing their careers in the hospital. I also got to shadow in the ED and experienced firsthand everyone involved in the treatment of a patient from the moment they are brought in by EMS to the moment they are discharged. I was able to learn what life was really like working in Emergency Medicine. The adrenaline rush of not knowing what comes in the door every day and the wide span of injuries and illnesses that you see in the ED is incredibly appealing to me. Not to mention, Emergency Medicine is one of the most unique specialties because ideally, you will only be seeing your patient once in their lifetime and as a caregiver you have to learn how to gain their complete and absolute trust to best help treat the patient in a short period of time. All of my relationships with the Emergency Medicine professionals and shadowing in the ED helped me solidify that Emergency Medicine is the field of medicine that I want to pursue in my future.

After our ED tour, we went up to the helipad that is used for Life Flight transports to the hospital

Another aspect of my STEP project that helped me transform my plans for the future was participating in intense, realistic scenarios while backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. From simulated drownings to cardiac arrests to bear attacks, every program participant had the opportunity to practice hands-on clinical skills regarding the Emergency Medicine and Wilderness Medicine skills we learned. We each had the opportunity to act as patients, contribute as a team member, or be the leader for a multitude of scenarios. Some examples include the program instructor collapsing on our hike to simulate going into cardiac arrest or our TAs falling out of a canoe to simulate a drowning. I also was a leader for a mass casualty incident in which there was a simulated helicopter crash with multiple patients. All of the scenarios I participated in and the spontaneity with which they occurred led me to seriously deciding that I want to be a paramedic for a couple of years. Having limited resources and having the freedom to think fast and act on my instincts outside of a hospital setting was so incredible for just the simulations, but I cannot even imagine how much more I would enjoy it as an actual paramedic in the streets or wilderness. Thus, I learned that being a paramedic for a couple of years is what I want to do after graduation before going on to medical or PA school.

Scenario where I played an unconscious patient with a broken ankle

MCI scenario where we prepared to evacuate a patient with cerebral hemorrhaging

The last aspect of my STEP project that really solidified what I want to do for the rest of my life were the relationships I made with my fellow program participants. The majority of us in the program were facing the same dilemma as me, trying to figure out what path into medicine we should follow and what careers we should pursue. Additionally, since the majority of us were interested in Emergency Medicine, it was even easier to relate about the similar confusion about whether or not it was better to be a doctor, PA, NP, or paramedic. Regardless of the careers we were all considering, what really stood out to me was how respectful, caring, and compassionate everyone was. I have never met a more dedicated group of people that worked hard as well as played hard which is such an essential ability needed to work in Emergency Medicine. Everyone I met was also such an amazing team player, especially when it came to running through scenarios where a “patient’s” life was on the line. All I could think was, I just want to work with these amazing people for the rest of my life. I cannot wait to work with the same kind of awesome people in Emergency Medicine in my future career.

Groups 5 and 6 preparing to go out on our hike

My STEP project truly changed my plans for the rest of my life. From having no idea what path to take or what career in medicine would be best for me, I can confidently say that I want to work in Emergency Medicine and upon graduation, I want to become a paramedic and work in EMS for a couple of years before applying to medical school down the road. Prior to my STEP project, I was confused and dissatisfied with my life because I did not know what I truly wanted to do. After participating in this program, a huge weight was lifted off of my chest. I could finally breathe and not be stressed about the future. I am satisfied with everything I did in my life to get me this far, but more importantly I am so happy and excited for what my future has in store in Emergency Medicine.

One thought on “University of Colorado Pre-Med Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course

  1. Wow….you found a great experience to be a part of! All the best on your journey into the healthcare field. Thank you so much for sharing about this.

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