MERT: great challenges lead to big rewards

CDC Spotlight on Student Employees

Although they occupy different positions within Mount Holyoke’s Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) squad, both Jesse Lang and Kirsten Therrien agree their on-campus work has played a huge role in shaping their undergraduate experiences. “My time at Mount Holyoke would be so different if I didn't have MERT as part of my life,” says Kirsten, a senior and the squad’s former Assistant Director. A Psychology major with a self-designed minor in Sports Studies, Kirsten was recruited to Mount Holyoke by the varsity crew coach, Jeanne Friedman, and has remained a team member throughout her four years at the school. As with Jesse, Kirsten’s decision to undergo EMT training occurred at an early stage in her college career. “My dad is a firefighter, and after seeing emergency medical services (EMS) as a very male-dominated field, it was exciting to find it could be a possibility for me as well. After my sophomore year, transitioning from EMT training to MERT seemed completely natural.”

For Jesse, a junior Biology major with a Culture, Health, and Science Five College Certificate, beginning work with MERT also made sense for her plans post-graduation. “I wanted to learn about patient care and gain hands-on experience so I could prepare for a career in health services.” Currently MERT’s Director, Jesse is also a Teaching Assistant with both the Biology and Math departments. “This semester has been sort of a transition period,” she observes, saying that since assuming a top leadership position, she’s been “helping facilitate the EMT class and plan the curriculum for next year,” in addition to “holding weekly meetings at the local fire station, coordinating with the rest of the MERT E-Board, planning activities and speakers, and just doing administrative squad duties. Oh, and emails,” she laughs. “Lots of emails!”

Kirsten adds that the nature of her work has shifted significantly since she gave up her position as the squad’s Assistant Director. In particular, much of her time is taken up by serving as the liaison between MERT and the South Hadley fire department. “I was hired by them in October, and have since been through the fire academy to become a part-time fire-fighter as well.” With her training, Kirsten can help other MERT members learn everything from driving an ambulance to how to take emergency vitals. “It’s been great to serve the town and local community with the department and EMS,” she enthuses. “I discovered I want to do something with the fire department for as long as I am physically able—I’m bit of an adrenaline junkie!” In addition, Kirsten often conducts skill drills during weekly MERT meetings. “For instance, we practice using expired DPI pens. Working at the fire department has given me a lot of hands-on experience with equipment MERT doesn’t have access to, which I can then pass on to the group.”

Although both Kirsten and Jesse devote a significant amount of time to their work, Jesse insists it’s not “impossible to be a student and an EMT! We have a relatively low call volume compared to a city, for one thing.” She also finds the work exciting: “There’s no such thing as a typical shift for me! I do have to plan the meetings consistently, and the Assistant Director and I meet with the Head of Health Services each week, but otherwise it really depends.” Kirsten agrees: “Being a liaison, I get to show girls around the ambulance and help them with training. Members that are able to third-ride [accompany two paramedics in the back of the ambulance] can see anything—from a car accident to a broken limb. The experience they receive is incredibly helpful.”

Both Jesse and Kirsten find the greatest challenges of their work linked closely to its biggest rewards. “Being strong for other people is both so tough and so important,” says Kirsten. Jesse added how “rewarding it can be” to interact with people “on that intimate level. It’s intensely personal, but knowing I’m doing a service to someone who really needs it is an incredible feeling.” Certainly, however, the logistics of the job can prove tricky for both of them. In particular, as Director, Jesse notes that trying to balance of needs of relatively large squad is always an issue. “A lot of the time, administration can be more difficult than handling calls.”

For Kirsten, the administrative aspect of MERT has proven particularly useful. “I used to be a Manager with Dining Services, which I unfortunately had to drop,” she says, noting she especially enjoyed the managerial qualities of her former position. “Next year, I’m headed to the Isenberg School of Management for an MBA with a focus in healthcare administration. Since I’ll still be living in town, I can keep working for the fire department for at least a few more years.” Jesse, meanwhile, says she is strongly considering a career in nursing. “I’ve gotten a lot of valuable skills, namely, the ability to think on my feet,” she observes. Post-graduation, she hopes to serve in Peace Corps, and following that, apply for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). “I’m expecting to hear back about Peace Corps towards the end of summer. My hope is to start the August or September after I graduate.”

Like Jesse, Kirsten hopes to continue with service work after Mount Holyoke. “I’d love to serve as a call-volunteer with a fire department; maybe work for FEMA, something more on the administrative side. I can also see myself in an emergency room.” She advises students to not be afraid to “try out” new positions. “On the other hand, if you find one you really like, it’s okay to say no to things so you can pursue what you really love. And don't sell yourself short—there’s no job you can't reach!” Jesse concurred, saying that keeping her options open has allowed her to discover so much that’s enhanced her Mount Holyoke experience. “I definitely surprised myself—I came to college expecting to be a Math major and later, an accountant. The liberal arts focus here exposed me to new opportunities, and led me to where I am today. MERT has definitely made me see campus as a totally different place!”