Two weeks ago, I completed a three-day intensive for ACLS and BLS at my medical school and felt so empowered by the end of the course that I packed up and went on a six-day road-trip to the Virginia mountains and to Washington, D.C. after. The first two years of medical education is spent learning about the Krebs Cycle and the adverse effects of drugs that you may never see but should know for the simple fact that you might fall into the 1% of the medical community that does see that side effect. My ACLS course was directly after my first rotation, Family Medicine, of my third-year of medical education and felt like a huge hallmark in my future career of medicine. For the six weeks prior in Family Medicine, I had been practicing how to do the perfect History and Physical, as well as how to work the Electronic Medical Records System.
Emergency medical care is so different from the life of medicine I just became accustomed to in Family Medicine. The goal is different. The goal is to stabilize your patient and keep them alive to receive further healthcare they will need in the future. I am sure I am not along in the medical student community in being ridden with anxious about several matters from tests to being competent in saving lives, but after three days of ACLS, I feel much more comfortable in approaching a situation in which I may be the difference between whether a person lives or dies. Those words along hold so much gravity, but that is the reality.
Throughout ACLS training, I contemplated how I would approach a situation, both mentally and physically, that centered around performing life-saving techniques on patients. This was, of course, partially required to even pass the course, but it was important action nonetheless because this will be an important component to my future career as a physician. Being a healthcare provider in any field or specialty will involve stress, and it is important to be able to channel this stress into productive actions.
My number one advice to myself at the beginning of my ACLS journey was to stay calm. Yes, there needs to be a sense of urgency in saving a person’s life, but being frantic and unorganized with my thoughts can ruin life-saving actions and procedures. Being calm will allow me to properly assess a situation at the scene of an accident or ongoing injury; I must be able to recognize a life-threatening situation that could even put other people within the vicinity in danger. Being calm will allow me to think clearly and use the skills I learned in ACLS to potentially save a life.
All through our medical training as medical students, we are taught interpersonal skills, and they do not stop with ACLS and urgent healthcare scenarios. I must be able to deal with multiple people and situations at once. There may be a distressed family member on the scene. I must be able to ask for assistance, like someone running to retrieve an AED promptly. Furthermore, if I show distress, this does nothing but add onto an already distraught environment.
As medical students, it is easy to get caught in the façade of pretending we know what we are doing. Training, like that in ACLS, allows us to overcome the gap of knowledge we had when coming into the process of medical school. However, there is still so much we don’t know in our third and fourth years of training. Mentally, I must be able to differentiate between when I know enough to be of assistance versus when I may interfere with the work myself or someone may be trying to do, like saving a life. It is important to know when I must confront that I do not know how to handle certain situations.
In addition to the contemplation of the emotions and physical fortitude of urgent medical situations, I must be updated on current ACLS and BLS standards of care. Reading electrocardiograms needs to become second nature to me – in my ability to differentiate ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, and pulseless electrical activity (PEA). I was truly amazed at how much I learned in three days of ACLS and BLS training. As a team with my fellow classmates, I learned when to administer certain drugs, when to utilize or skip electrical cardioversion, and when to begin CPR – all crucial information and potentially life-saving depending on what is needed and when! This is all information that will recur throughout my medical career – both on boards and in “real-life” scenarios.