Student turns EMT experience into research opportunity

“The research process as an undergraduate has had an instrumental impact on my personal development,” Tarek Haggy said. “It’s taught me things that no class could and provided early exposure to the professional world.”

Tarek Haggy
Tarek Haggy. (Courtesy photo)

Emergency medicine is not for the faint of heart. Usually the first on the scene during a crisis, emergency medical technicians are responsible for providing care – no matter the situation – and quickly transporting the patient to the nearest medical facility. What happens in those minutes of care matter greatly, something that Tarek Haggy learned firsthand as an EMT.

“I think the most important thing about [emergency medical services] is knowing that whenever responding to a call, we have no idea what we're getting into, so we have to be prepared for anything,” said Haggy, a student in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Sciences

Haggy had his first ride-along in an ambulance in 2017 and was hooked. “I thought joining the rescue squad would be a great way to see if medicine was what I truly wanted to pursue as well as being able to give back to the community in the process,” he said. “Long story short, I fell in love with EMS and joined the Fredericksburg Rescue Squad as an official member, running my monthly hours ever since.” 

Over time, Haggy moved up in the ranks, receiving his EMT certification and eventually becoming a released attendant-in-charge, a leadership role during shifts. Haggy, who hopes to become a physician, also enrolled at VCU, taking classes toward his general science degree.

While working as an EMT, Haggy noticed there was a lack of training in proper pelvic binding, a procedure that stabilizes the pelvis and can prevent internal bleeding if done properly. The technique is commonly used after high-impact collisions. 

“I noticed a lack of emphasis on pelvic binding, both from the course I took to obtain my certification, as well as within my region’s training protocols. Colleagues of mine have reported similar experiences with the EMT courses in which they enrolled,” Haggy said. “Although my local rescue squad stocks pelvic binders, there is minimal effort made to demonstrate their proper application.” 

So when he learned of the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Endowed Fund at VCU, which provides grants for students to pursue internships, conferences, research and study abroad, Haggy saw an opportunity. He proposed a comprehensive study on current pelvic binding protocols in emergency medicine. He also put forward an additional study on minority EMT workers, a personal interest to him as he is often one of the only minority EMT workers on the rescue squad. Haggy was awarded funding for the 2019-20 academic year.

Under the guidance of Susan Bodnar-Deren, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Haggy developed a survey for EMS workers. The study recently received VCU Institutional Review Board approval, a necessary step for researchers working with human research subjects. He’s also reached out to the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians to help disseminate the survey.

“Tarek is one of those students that is focused, driven, inquisitive, creative and extremely knowledgeable – both in terms of theory, but also practice,” Bodnar-Deren said. “I originally just hoped he could answer his questions through rigorous empirical research and that he would grow as a researcher in a way that would inform his future work in medicine. Since working with him and getting feedback from others, especially those in emergency medicine, I think Tarek will contribute to the larger body of knowledge specific to prehospital practice.”

Haggy is set to graduate in the spring, and plans to apply to medical school. Depending on the results of his initial study, it’s possible that he’ll carry this research with him to medical school. 

“This whole experience thus far has been surreal. The initial venture began simply out of a need to satisfy my curiosity, but it has grown into something so much more than that,” Haggy said. “The research process as an undergraduate has had an instrumental impact on my personal development. It’s taught me things that no class could and provided early exposure to the professional world. It’s strengthened my comprehension of scientific literature, my ability to reach out to establish connections, and so much more.”

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