Successful delivery of Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and emergency medicine requires a calm presence of mind and years of preparation. As a pre-medical student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with experience in cancer research, emergency first-aid, and palliative care volunteerism, I approach life-saving from the intersection of these fields. My participation in emergency situations has reinforced my understanding that saving lives is the most significant aspect of the medical field. This has strengthened my determination to become a physician in order to provide patients with healthcare and ACLS that is professional, adaptable, and compassionate.
My background in aquatic emergency care prepared me for the physical and technical requirements of a career in emergency medicine. However, I realized I was unprepared for the challenge of processing the emotional components of life-or-death situations. Volunteering at the Dr. Peter Center, an internationally renowned AIDS/HIV palliative care facility, has taught me to empathize with patients from a variety of vulnerable circumstances and backgrounds. This experience helped me provide better care as I can now connect more deeply with the patients. Furthermore, my appreciation for the impact of cancer diagnoses and treatment, as a relative of cancer survivors, enables me to approach life-saving and emergency medicine from a personal viewpoint. My knowledge as an emergency care practitioner and my emotional connection of a palliative care volunteer, coupled with my experience as the grandson of cancer survivors, informs my perspective on ACLS.
As a trained life-saver, I have experienced first-hand the tenacity and resolve needed to carry out the rescue of a drowning victim or treat injured patients. This has deepened my respect for emergency care providers and the adversity they face. My personal approach to mentally preparing for these situations is rooted in my understanding and solidarity with ACLS providers. In the moment of recognition, when the alarm is sounded or the whistle is blown, I take a deep breath and remember my training as a life-saving professional. For example, in my first week working as a lifeguard, I watched a novice swimmer jump off a diving board into deep water. I saw him struggling at the bottom of the pool and my training kicked in immediately. I dove into the pool and pulled the swimmer to the surface, frightened but unharmed. In the heat of the moment, I was able to recognize, react and execute the necessary skills quickly and effectively due to years of practice and mentorship. It was only afterwards that the shocking realization set in; I had actually pulled the swimmer out of the water before he drowned! During our routine checkup after the rescue, I will always remember him thanking me over and over again for saving his life. It was in that moment that I fully understood the significance of devoting one’s life to the preservation of others, and the importance of learning ACLS.
Effective emergency care also requires efficient prioritization skills, enabling me to coordinate with bystanders and other life-savers to treat victims competently. Recently I was able to lead a lifeguard training simulation with a large group of emergency care providers at the local waterpark. Even when confronted with several emergencies at once, I was able to triage patients, communicate effectively with group members across an Olympic-size swimming facility, and successfully prepare the team for a variety of mock emergency situations. This was possible because I was able to keep calm and remember my training amidst the disorder and confusion of the emergency care environment. My emergency training gave me the confidence I needed to effectively coordinate a large team while maintaining control of a complex situation.
I also have front-line experience collaborating with medical professionals and recipients of care through my interactions with patients and researchers as a Co-op student at the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA). I was responsible for validating a molecular classification system for endometrial cancer subtypes. Additionally, I initiated seven novel projects on rare ovarian cancer biomarkers, and contributed to a study on breast cancer autophagy proteins. I was even privileged to shadow gynecological surgeries from within the operating room, attend cutting-edge research symposiums, seminars and conferences on cancer research, and participate in pathology rounds at the local hospital! In connection with my work at the BCCA, I was awarded UBC Science Co-op Student of the Year (2016) and a highly competitive UBC Faculty of Medicine Summer Student Research Program grant (2016). I also co-authored five abstracts for publication, presenting a first-author poster at the world’s premier pathology conference in San Antonio, Texas. As well, I collaborated with internationally renowned researchers in the field of gynecologic pathology. These experiences deepened my understanding of the team-based, interpersonal skill set needed for delivering high-quality ACLS and emergency care.
Experience has taught me that communication and teamwork skills are the most important aspects of providing high-quality emergency care and ACLS. Care providers do not exist in a vacuum, and as a result, one of the first things I do in a new environment is establish a strong rapport with my co-workers. Approaching healthcare from an inclusive perspective allows for a more streamlined system of care and also encourages patient dialogue, thus providing more targeted treatment directed by the patient’s wishes. In my capacity as a lifesaving instructor, I try to instill these two pillars of emergency care in my trainees: effective communication and good teamwork, in order to produce the next generation of competent ACLS providers.
After my first emergency care situation, I learned first-hand that life is precious, and I have committed myself to studying health sciences with the goal of becoming a physician in order to save more lives in the future. Volunteering at the Dr. Peter Center has reinforced my emotional strength, allowing me to deliver high-quality emergency care even in stressful situations. Observing and participating in emergency situations in the hospital and as a lifeguard has mentally and physically prepared me for a career in emergency medicine, as a knowledgeable provider of ACLS.