Growing up in Westport, Rebecca Kamins had plenty of great experiences.
She swam for the Staples girls swim team, managed the boys squad, played water polo, taught evening swim classes, and was honored for her aquatic leadership.
Rebecca performed with the Westport Academy of Dance (taking classes after swim practice); was a Girl Scout from 2nd grade on (she’s still a troop leader), and on a Scouting trip to India took a class on women’s empowerment.
She was a student board member for A Better Chance (and earned a TEAM Westport scholarship for her work).
She played viola, was elected to the National Honor Society, and through Staples’ Authentic Science Research course she did a summer internship with NASA, studying bone mineral density changes in astronauts.
But all of that pales beside an activity that was truly life-changing: EMS.
Around 2002, early in her Staples career, she heard about Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service. It was the same time the TV show “In a Heartbeat” — about high school students working on an ambulance — came out. Rebecca was intrigued.
She’d always loved science and math, and had sort of thought about a career in medicine. Needing something else to fill up her schedule — hah! — she jumped in.
Her 1st class was Medical Response Technician. It met from 6-9 p.m. every Sunday, with additional time for tests and practical work. She passed another tough class as a senior and became certified to ride on the ambulance, alongside adult EMTs and paramedics.
The high school students — Explorer Post 601 — took patient histories, monitored vital signs, provided basic wound care, splinted broken bones, provided basic life support and administered oxygen, among other duties.
For the past decade, Rebecca has worked at EMS. At first she spent 3 hours a week, after school or on weekends. After another tough class as a senior, she became a full adult EMS member. Throughout college — and then medical school — she kept working. Rebecca has logged over 1300 hours in Westport.
It sounds cliched, Rebecca says, but the highlight of her work is helping people — “especially those in my back yard.” Working for EMS allows her to give back to her community.
She also appreciates the camaraderie. Her 100-plus fellow volunteers include teachers, friends’ parents, and other professionals throughout town.
“EMS helped me grow as a student and a person,” Rebecca notes. “I learned to talk to people I had never met, think on my feet and make quick decisions, improvise, and interact with all sorts of people in a team environment.”
At Colby College, her EMS experience helped her become head of the emergency medical response service. She also taught CPR courses.
In 2009, Rebecca entered Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine. She took last year off, and served as a medical clinic coordinator at a free clinic in the Bolivian rain forest. Once again, her EMS training proved invaluable.
Now in her 4th year of med school, Rebecca is pursuing internal medicine and pediatrics. On March 21, she finds out where she’ll do her residency.
Wherever it is, she is grateful her path began in Westport. In med school, she says, “I was constantly told I was a step above my peers in interactions with patients. I know this was because I was exposed to medicine at such a young age.”
She calls Westport EMS “a great steppingstone” not just for doctors, but anyone interested in becoming a nurse, physician assistant, pharmacist — any job in medicine.
“Not many small towns have their own ambulance service,” she adds. “And, I promise, if you ever had the unfortunate chance of needing us, you appreciate the shorter response time, compassion and understanding we bring to every patient.” She looks forward to supporting WVEMS however she can.
Which leads to this plea: They’re always looking for help keeping their ambulances well stocked, up to date, and available to respond to emergencies 24/7/365. WVEMS is not supported by tax dollars.
Donations are crucial. They pay for everything from new equipment — WVEMS is fundraising now for a power lift system for their 3 power stretchers and 4 new LifePak monitors (cost: over $150,000) — to ambulances themselves (they just purchased a new one, for $192,000).
Plus tongue depressors.
Every Westporter — and every Westport organization — can help. Click here to donate online, or send a check to “Westport Volunteer EMS” at 50 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880. (Yes, it’s a 501(c)3 organization.)