Behind the scenes at every Virginia Tech home football game, the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad provides emergency medical services to crowds of more than 62,000 people.
The all-volunteer, nationally recognized group of undergraduate students staffs four first-aid stations with up to eight beds each, operates four ambulances, and helps with other logistical and support roles inside and outside of the stadium.
The 45+ volunteer rescue squad members and their local colleagues provide immediate first-aid and emergency care.
Volunteer physicians from Carilion Clinic are taking that care to the next level.
Three Carilion physicians are volunteering their time and expertise to work alongside the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad’s EMTs and paramedics on game day. The partnership improves patient care and health care resource management, and provides learning opportunities for both student rescue squad members and the physicians.
“In Virginia, there are only a few events that occur as often as these football games and have this volume of people in attendance,” said Eric K. Stanley, an emergency physician with Carilion Clinic and the operational medical director of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad. “These games present unique challenges, and this collaboration allows us to hone our skills in that environment.”
Stanley, who was a student at Virginia Tech from 1999 to 2003 and studied biology, nurtured his passion for emergency medicine in the back of the Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad’s ambulances.
The level of care that fans receive from the rescue squad and the other emergency medical services agencies on game day has always been exceptional, he said.
The rescue squad treats people at each game for a host of minor issues. These can include headaches, lacerations, and bumps and bruises that are often the result of a combination of chronic conditions, age, weather, and a long morning/afternoon of tailgating. These patients can usually return to their seats after they are treated.
Other patients who are in need of more advanced medical care, such as those who are severely dehydrated or suffer a serious fall and those who have alcohol poisoning, chest pain, or dizziness, are transported by ambulance to local hospitals. The rescue squad works with several other area squads and emergency personnel to staff each game and help transport patients.
“The presence of operational medical direction from doctors in the stadium promotes a more flexible and often, more efficient treatment plan for patients,” said Rescue Squad Chief Chris Eyestone, a senior studying agribusiness and political science, from Blacksburg, Virginia.
The collaboration with Carilion doctors provides fans in need the opportunity to be quickly assessed by a physician, reduces the amount of time EMTs and paramedics spend transporting fans to hospitals, and lessens the demand on local emergency rooms. The collaboration is now in its second year.
Even a relatively simple procedure, like an electrocardiogram, commonly referred to as an EKG, presents a learning opportunity.
“Being able to do an EKG on-site is really helpful for the patient, but it also gives us the opportunity to talk with the student about what the EKG tells us about the heart, what conditions we might worry about, and why we are, or are not, making the decision to transport the patient to the hospital,” said Hayley Rose-Inman, one of the volunteering physicians.
Stanley, Rose-Inman, and Robert Zemple spend anywhere from six to 10 hours volunteering their time and expertise at each home football game.
“We train for mass-gathering events, but the opportunity to come together to manage an event with more than 62,000 people and on six different occasions every year is a really invaluable opportunity for us all,” said Zemple.
On an average game day in Lane Stadium, the rescue squad treats about 25 patients. At the most recent home game against Liberty University on Sept. 3, the rescue squad treated 36 patients and transported five to local hospitals. According to ESPN, 62,234 fans attend the game.
Larger games, such as the Labor Day weekend matchup against Ohio State on Sept. 7, 2015, with lengthier tailgating and bigger crowds, mean more patients to treat. According to ESPN, 65,632 fans attended the Labor Day game. During that matchup, the rescue squad treated 108 patients, 23 of whom were transported to local hospitals.
Many of the rescue squad students plan to pursue careers in the medical field and the opportunity to work alongside a physician, and get a glimpse of what a career in the industry is like, is invaluable, explained Eyestone.
Without this experience, emergency medical service exposure to health care personnel typically occurs in the hospital emergency room when patient care is transferred to nurses and doctors.
In addition to emergency medicine, students are also learning about bedside manner and what the profession is like. Stanley, Rose-Inman, and Zemple have all talked with students about medical school, research, work-life balance, and more.
Stanley and Zemple, both practicing physicians, are also assistant professors of emergency medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
Both Rose-Inman, from Hermitage, Pennsylvania, and Zemple, from Appleton, Wisconsin, came to Roanoke in 2012 for Emergency Medicine Residency training at Carilion Clinic. They are now participating in Carilion Emergency Medical Service Fellowship and will graduate from the program in May 2017 with a plethora of unique emergency medicine experience as well as a professional MBA from Virginia Tech.