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School of Medicine discoveries

February 11, 2016

M1 Alex Simmonds learns “trauma surgery is where I belong in the world”

The delta trauma alert on a Friday night called about 40 people to the trauma bay. One of them was the Class of 2019’s Alex Simmonds.

He’d spent the evening shadowing a third-year student on a trauma shift.

“My M3 instructed me to don the full range of personal protective equipment: gloves, gown, face shield and mask as practice for the future,” Simmonds wrote in a first-person account posted to his medical class’ website. “As just an M1 shadow, I wasn’t expected to actually participate in the case, just watch.”

Simmonds had worked as an EMT before coming to the VCU School of Medicine, but he’d never been witness to a bedside thoracotomy.

Before he left for medical school last fall, a favorite ER physician told Alex Simmonds ‘Someday, someone is going to throw you a pass. Make sure you’re ready to catch it.’

“This is a procedure done to open up the chest, often so that compressions can be done directly on the patient’s heart, which is much more effective than regular CPR.”

To his surprise, he went from an observer to being recruited to perform cardiac massage.

Prepped with instruction from the attending surgeon, Simmonds inserted his hands into the patient’s opened chest cavity. He later wrote how “Lots of things go through your mind while you’re pumping someone else’s heart for them. ‘Am I doing this right?’, ‘I’m actually holding a person’s heart,’ and ‘I wonder if we can actually save this person,’ just to name a few.”

Susan R. DiGiovanni, M’84, H’89, interim senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs, says Simmond’s experience is a testament of the type of things that can happen to a student on VCU’s MCV Campus. “You are involved in patient care.”

At the beginning of the shift, Simmonds says, he was “someone who was enthusiastic about science and healthcare.” That Friday evening, he learned he loves decision-making under pressure, being part of a team effort and high intensity, make-or-break situations.

“I learned that trauma surgery is where I belong in the world.”

A classmate who enjoyed reading his account “Does Everyone Here Realize that I’m an M1?” encouraged him to share it with Whitecoated, a website for medical students and residents where writers describe their experiences.

Simmonds had gotten a taste of trauma care during his undergraduate studies at Greenville College in Illinois when he earned his EMT-B license. Despite the pressure of working weekends and being on call most nights, “it was the best thing I did to prepare for medical school. We were a hospital-based service, so I was able to pick up patients in the field and then bring them back to the hospital and continue to assist with their care.

“I remember right before I left for medical school a particular ER doc I really look up to told me ‘Someday, someone is going to throw you a pass. Make sure you’re ready to catch it.’ That was certainly going through my mind when I was called up to the bedside. ‘This is the day Dr. Bond warned you about’ was what I kept thinking.”

By Erin Lucero

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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Updated: 04/29/2016