It really gives you a good feeling to go out there helping to save someone's life. I know it sounds corny, but it's true," said Wendie Savonarola of Baltimore, as she talked about her dedication to a growing new field called emergency medical services (EMS.)
"What hooks you on it is the lights and the sirens," joked Maggie Costella of Columbia, as she tried to explain her fasination with EMS.
Costella and Savonrola hope to become part of the first class of a new Bachelor of Science program in EMS that will be offered at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County starting this month.
University officials say the four-year program is the only one of its kind in the country. They have been flooded with requests from prospective students hoping to enroll and from government and industry seeking to employ graduates.
The new program will offer training in the administrative and technical aspects of EMS -- a comprehensive system for coordinating a community's various medical and rescue resources to provide fast, quality medical treatment for severe accident victims.
Maryland has one of the most fully developed EMS systems in the country, experts in the field say. The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services in Baltimore -- commonly called the Shock Trauma Center -- is the cornerstone of the state's system.
But an extensive statewide communication network also coordinates the efforts of volunteer and professional fire departments, ambulance rescue squads, hospital emergency rooms, private ambulance services, Maryland State Police Med-Evac helicopters and special treatment centers for spinal and eye injuries, burn victims, heart attack patients, and infants and children.
In the best systems, a victim's treatment begins en route to the hospital. Doctors monitor the patient's heartbeat and vital functions via radio and tell paramedics how to provide initial care.
The new university program will train students to set up and run EMS programs.
Jeffrey T. Mitchell, currently the new program's only faculty member, believes EMS is coming of age. With the passage of the federal EMS Systems Act in 1973, modeled on the successful Maryland system, federal support became available to help communities across the country improve emergency care. The goal was to blanket the country with coordinated services so that all victims would receive the best care, regardless of where they live.
More than 100 systems are now operating, and they are creating a demand for professional administrators. Mitchell said most existing EMS training programs offer students two years of training in paramedic and life-saving techniques. The new program will do that and more. Students will learn the psychology and politics of getting local governments and other individual components to cooperate -- an essential element in setting up and operating an EMS system.
"We are really creating a brand new profession and a very complex one because ther's a lot of politics to it, as well as sociology and psychology and a pretty heavy technical aspect to it," Mitchell said.
Dorothy L. Gordon, the new departmenths director, said EMS students will be trained in emergency medicine and equipment and will have to learn to run complex radio communications systems. They will intern at the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and in other Maryland emergency treatment centers.
In addition, students must learn administration and how to teach EMS.
EMS majors will be required to take a full program of mathematics and science, political and social sciences, languages and other university requirements for receiving a bachelor's degree.
So far, 83 students have taken an introductory survey course, which was offered by the university in fall 1980. This month, 25 students will be selected to become the program's first majors. Mitchell said he hopes to graduate the first EMS students in spring 1983.
If response to the new program is any indication, there will be plenty of jobs for the new graduates. There have been more than 500 information requests since July from every state in this country and several foreign countries. Mitchell said he anticipates graduates will be offered jobs not only by local governments but also by private industry. Sales representatives with an understanding of EMS needs would be invaluable to drug and medical equipment firms, Mitchell said.
Students who completed the first course were excited about the prospect of becoming the first professionals in a new field. They expect higher pay and status than colleagues with only two-year degrees.
"We kind of feel like the man on the moon because we're first," said Nadja Vawryk, 18, of Glen Burnie. "I see a big need for better coordination between the (legislators) making the rules and those who know what street medicine is like."
Many students said they became interested in the field because of their association with volunteer fire departments.
Maggie Costella, 21, has been a volunteer at the Savage volunteer fire department in Howard County. "The fire service is like a bug, and once you've got it you can't get rid of it." But despite her joke about the "lights and the sirens," she said her goal is to become director of the Shock Trauma Center. "I still hope to go to medical school and I definitely want to be in emergency medicine. I should be graduating in June, but now I've found a program that I absolutely love."