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‘I loved every second of it’: A local high school graduate’s summer at VCU Medical Center


As the daughter of a volunteer paramedic and apsychologist, Kaylee Eckert has always been at the center of emergency services and medicine. When she turned 16, she enrolled in an emergency medical technician class and began volunteering at the Goochland Courthouse Volunteer Fire Rescue Company 5, in Goochland, Virginia.

“I’ve just always known and felt that it was my niche,” Eckert said. “I treat it like my job.”

After serving as a volunteer EMT throughout high school, she was awarded the Old Dominion Emergency Medical Services Alliance award for outstanding contribution to EMS. Eckert’s passion also piqued the interest of emergency medicine physicians and led her this summer to VCU Medical Center to participate in an EMS mini-fellowship in July and August. 

Similar to the fellowship experience of medical students after residency, Eckert worked alongside VCU Medical Center’s most seasoned emergency physicians — who also got their start as volunteer EMTs.

“Each of the five EMS physicians at VCU Medical Center began our careers in medicine as volunteer EMTs,” said Amir Louka, M.D., emergency medicine physician at VCU Medical Center. “Kaylee’s dedication to serving her community and obvious commitment to academic excellence reflect the qualities we each strive toward.”

I will never forget what they taught me’

To begin the mini-fellowship, Eckert attended a lecture with emergency medicine residents. There, they had training on cardiac codes — the code name system that alerts hospital staff of an emergency — and practiced intubation, which is the process of inserting a tube into the airway to assist with breathing.

“I loved every second of it,” Eckert said.

Eckert being trained on cardiac codes.

The next day, shespent 10 hours shadowing emergency physicians Louka and Jeffrey Ferguson, M.D., in the adult emergency department and trauma bay. Later in the summer, she spent a shift in the pediatric emergency department and flew in an emergency helicopter with a flight nurse and paramedic.

Eckert said she was astonished at the amount of information and skills that are all within her scope of practice as a volunteer EMT.

“We saw so many patients, and the dynamic of care was very different than what I’m used to as a pre-hospital EMT, but it is in my future patients best interest that I know these things,” Eckert said. 

“I will never forget what they taught me.” 

Building valuable relationships

The relationships Eckert developed during this experience have been especially helpful in her career planning, she said. Before the fellowship experience, she planned to pursue a master’s degree in nursing soon after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Now, after discussions with her mentors at VCU Medical Center, she plans to work as a registered nurse first to gain more hands-on experience.

“There are so many things you can’t learn from a textbook,” Eckert said. “My mentors at VCU have truly been the best part of my fellowship because the passion and advice that they are passing down to me is exactly what I want to use to help myself grow personally and professionally.”

This week, Eckert began classes at Longwood University. She said the most exciting part about working in EMS, as well as nursing, is the chance to make someone’s worst day ever, become a little less horrible.

“I am able to take command of the situation and try my absolute best to ensure that whatever is wrong gets resolved. While it is tough to see people in pain, there is nothing quite like seeing a patient’s care come full circle, where all becomes well again.”

Eckert talks with Ferguson in the trauma bay.
Eckert talks with Ferguson in the trauma bay. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)