Envisioning a Career in Emergency Medicine

On a recent June day, in a spacious classroom at Stanford School of Medicine, Dr. Kathy Staats tells a group of high school students, “Statistically, all of you are going to be involved in some kind of accident or disaster in your lifetime. If you are prepared, it is a lot less scary.”

The students, drawn from around the country, are participating in a ten-day immersion training on emergency medicine. A collaboration between Stanford Medicine and Envision Experience, the program allows students to experience realistic life-and-death medical scenarios, as well as:

  • Participate in an anatomy lab with real cadavers.
  • Work as a team to stabilize a patient.
  • Learn to perform rescue breaths and chest compressions.
  • Suture wounds.
  • Earn Basic Life Support certification.
  • Explore emergency wilderness medicine.


The immersion is designed to engage and excite young people about a career in emergency medicine through a blend of didactics and hands-on simulations. Fast-paced and team-oriented, emergency medicine is a relatively young discipline, only formally recognized as the twenty-third medical specialty in 1979.

Dylan Corpuz, a senior from Modesto Christian High School, was surprised to realize that when it came to dealing with emergencies, clinical skills were only half of the equation. “You have to be a special person, with a strength of character to be able to deal with it.” He commented during a break in a triage exercise in which a third of his group lay prone on a makeshift tarp designated “Morgue. “You have to have strength and resilience, like Jason Lowe. He is my hero.”

Dr. Jason Lowe co-leads the program with Dr. Cori Poffenberger, both faculty at the Stanford Department of Emergency Medicine. 15 of their colleagues help to instruct on topics ranging from wilderness medicine to mass trauma to global health. Their enthusiasm for their chosen profession is evident to the students. “Dr. [Colin] Bucks just got off a night shift, but he is really excited to be here!” says Gabby Patin, a high school junior from Reno Nevada. Her father is a heart surgeon, but three days into the immersion program, she is considering a career in trauma.

The day before, the students were separated into countries and health organizations, and charged with solving, or at least containing, an Ebola crisis. Three days later, they watch the Stanford Lifeflight helicopter land on university grounds, and have the chance to climb aboard and learn about EMT services. At a separate station, a high school senior with braces wears an expression of grim determination as she pulls a tourniquet tight on a mannequin that is spouting fake blood from an amputated leg.

Each immersion session hosts 150 students, selected based on their academic record, leadership potential, and interest in the fields of health and medicine. 15 students are local to the Stanford community, attending on a scholarship from the Stanford Department of Emergency Medicine. This is the second year of the program, one of the only ones like it in the country, and unique because of the exposure to experts in the field.

“Students have unparalleled access to Stanford Emergency Medicine faculty,” Dr. Poffenberger notes. “And they have had the chance to perform procedures and skills usually reserved for practicing physicians.”

Gilbert Smith, a junior from Jesuit High School concurs. “I didn’t think I would learn a lot of this until college." He adds, in a tone of awe, “It’s not like it seems on TV. We get to learn what it is really like.” 

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