While many may be familiar with Ripon Guardian Ambulance Service, they may not be aware that local college students volunteer their time to the EMS provider.
Ripon Guardian currently has four Ripon College students serving as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), which EMS Chief Mitch Matuszeski described as “invaluable” to the service.
“Oftentimes at least one of the crew members on a call is one of our college EMTs,” he said. “Many of the college students that join plan to pursue a career in the medical field so Ripon EMS is a great way to gain experience and begin building their resume all while getting paid.”
The college students currently serving Ripon Guardian Ambulance Service include Liz Stanfield, Olivia Ambrose, John Poulakos and Abbigail Grieger.
The Commonwealth recently caught up with Stanfield and Ambrose to learn more about the balance between being a college student and serving as a first responder.
Stanfield, who is a Ripon native, started working for Ripon Guardian in July 2020 because she plans to go to medical school after graduating from Ripon College.
“A big part of being a good med school applicant is having some in-person patient contacts, so I decided that I wanted to be an EMT,” she said.
To become an EMT, Stanfield went to Moraine Park Technical College during the spring semester of 2020.
“I was there two nights a week, studying in class and doing labs to get myself ready to take the National Registry exam, which is what every EMT, paramedic and first responder in the nation has to go through in order to be certified,” she said. “Once I passed that registry exam, I just needed to apply for my Wisconsin license, and then I was good to go.”
She’s wanted to work in the medical field since she was about 10 years old and, through Ripon EMS, has learned that she really enjoys caring for both patients and those close to the patient.
“We will have a patient that needs the ambulance, but we also see the patient’s family, close friends or people upset to see somebody that they care about in a difficult or painful situation,” Stanfield said. “The part that I really enjoy is being able to help ease the patient and help them to feel better, but also to comfort the people around them and make sure that they feel confident that the person they care about is getting the best care.”
On top of working for Ripon Guardian, she also serves as a resident assistant for Bovay Hall and is a member of student organizations on campus.
Because Ripon EMS is a part-time service, Stanfield said she can set her hours around her college schedule to avoid overlapping commitments.
She’s “on-call” for about 40 hours each week during the school year, and about 70 hours each week during the summer.
“There’s a little bit of extra stress there because it’s another thing that you need to do and it’s not inconsequential; it’s something that if you do it well, it pays off; but if you don’t do it well, it doesn’t,” she said. “I’ve found that it’s actually a pretty good stress reliever for me because it’s just such a rewarding line of work to be able to help people that are in need.”
Stanfield added that her experience with Ripon Guardian has shown her how important each step in a patient’s journey is and how EMS needs to work in harmony with the doctors and nurses in the local health care system.
“It feels good knowing that I’m playing a part,” she said.
When Stanfield graduates from Ripon College, she plans to take a “gap year” between undergraduate and medical school in order to spend a year working for Ripon Guardian Ambulance.
“I would really like to stay involved in emergency medicine in some way,” she said. “I’m not exactly sure what I’d like to specialize in yet, but working in EMS really shaped the way I see healthcare.”
Beyond gaining valuable experience for her future career, Stanfield says working for Ripon Guardian has increased meaning because she gets to give back to her hometown.
“I grew up in Ripon. I went to Ripon High School. Now I’m here at the college, so it takes on a little bit of extra meaning for me that I’m able to give back to a community that’s done so much for me in my earlier years here,” she said.
Although Ambrose grew up in Appleton, being a part of Ripon Guardian Ambulance Service has helped to make Ripon her “second home.”
She joined Ripon EMS in October 2020, and plans to go to nursing school after graduating from Ripon College.
Ambrose said she met a former Ripon College student who volunteered for Ripon Guardian and encouraged her to do the same.
“I thought EMS was going to be a great way to get a foot in the door for hospitals, working with nurses and doctors and seeing that work together,” she said. “And it just also gives me great experience in the medical field.”
When Ambrose took her EMT course, it was in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin, so she had to take her class “predominantly online.”
Since joining Ripon EMS, she said she’s continued to learn and has gotten more comfortable with her skills.
In terms of balancing her responsibilities as a college student with those of a first responder, Ambrose said she tries to schedule shifts around her classes, either before or after.
If she were to get paged because of an emergency while in class, Ambrose said her professors are “very understanding.”
“Even if I’m not on call, if the ambulance or the city needs something, they’re more than willing to let me leave if I need to,” she said.
While Ambrose isn’t sure what she wants to do after college, she is applying to different nursing programs and noted a lot of ambulance services hire nurses for the pre-hospital setting.
“It’s another really great thing that if I get into nursing school and end up passing all of those exams and become a nurse, I can still work on an ambulance as well,” she said. “I’m just looking at getting through nursing school and getting accepted. Right now, I’m not really sure what kind of nursing route I would like to go.”
Ambrose noted being able to help someone overcome their worst day makes being an EMT rewarding.
“We get called on the ambulance when people are having their bad days or their worst days,” she said. “Just being able to help in any way to make even a little bit of a difference is super rewarding.”
Ambrose added that she’s built strong relationships with the other college students on Ripon Guardian Ambulance Service, which helps when everyone is working together on the ambulance.
“We all have worked together for a long time, so we are able to work well with each other,” she said.