At first, the Rice University Emergency Medical Services faced skepticism over whether it would be a substantial asset to the campus, given that it sits right across the street from the largest network of hospitals in the world. A Jan. 26, 1996 article in the Thresher — almost four months after REMS had been established — said that “some questions have been raised about the overall benefits to the Rice community.” At the time, REMS still lacked university funding.
However, REMS has since proven itself — and gained funding from a variety of sources, including the university and a KTRU grant for EMS education. In 2017, REMS responded to 627 emergency calls. 250 required transport to a healthcare facility, and REMS treated the other 377 on-site. Response times are between two to three minutes, according to REMS director Lisa Basgall.
Basgall, who has been director since 2009, said that REMS plays an important role in ensuring health and safety on campus.
“Rice EMS members come from the campus community, most especially the undergraduates, and this builds trust in the service that is provided and in those who respond to emergencies,” Basgall said.
Doing this work takes a significant time commitment. Basgall said that most members work 24 to 48 hours of unpaid REMS shifts a month. That’s not counting the extensive training they receive before and after they join.
REMS members first have to take an Emergency Medical Technician certification class that lasts about 150 hours and includes practice in the emergency room and ambulance responses in addition to time in a classroom. Even once they are members, they have to maintain their certification with at least 48 hours of additional training every two years. Many REMS members also go on to achieve higher levels of EMS certification, including the highest level: advanced EMT.
“REMS takes training seriously,” Basgall said. “We offer several classes monthly for current members and alumni to make sure providers are ready to go for any emergency.”
“In-charges” go through even more extensive training. In-charges are the on-duty REMS members who direct the emergency response and oversee all of the team’s decisions while caring for the patient. Beyond being skilled in emergency medical care, they have to be prepared for larger incidents, like hurricanes. Basgall said in-charges also build partnerships with campus resources such as RUPD and the Rice Wellbeing Office.
Brenda Zhou is a current in-charge. She started in EMS training three years ago, as a freshman.
“I was really attracted to the fast problem-saving and patient communication that are required for the role,” Zhou, a Hanszen College senior, said.
She loves the adrenaline rush when she gets a call, but her true passion is teaching other EMTs. As education lieutenant for REMS and a teaching assistant for the EMT class, she helps future REMS members learn the skills they will need for their own shifts.
For her, the most difficult part of the shift is not, surprisingly, staying awake. It’s that she can only take care of some patients until they’re taken to the hospital.
“With some patients, I can’t help but worry about their status after we transfer them to the ambulance,” Zhou said.
This year, training the future class of in-charges is especially important since all seven of the current in-charges will be graduating at the end of this semester.
“Rice EMS has been operating smoothly for over 20 years due to a highly regulated and well-functioning system of institutional knowledge, aka the brain of our EMS director, Lisa Basgall, so I do not think it will suffer [from all the graduations] at all,” Zhou said.
Hanszen junior Abigail Tucker is one of the REMS members who will take over as an in-charge midway through this semester. To prepare, she has several courses ahead of her which will give her additional experience with emergency room shifts and ride-outs on ambulances as well as leadership training.
Tucker said she became involved in REMS because it was a tangible way to give back to the Rice community, and because it’s a hands-on opportunity to learn about emergency medicine.
“The best part of being involved in REMS is being able to see the manifestations of my volunteering efforts right in front of me,” Tucker said. “Whether it be bandaging someone’s hand or splinting someone’s ankle, it is so rewarding to see how thankful patients are.”