Anh Nguyen was 15 when she first responded to a cardiac arrest. Paired with an experienced EMT, but fresh from the EMS explorer training, in her own words she was thrown in the deep end.

“It was a crazy first shift, that’s for sure,” she said.

Nguyen stood in front of a room full of teenagers Thursday night, telling them about how that call and the countless others like it in the last four years have shaped her, and led her to start the LSU undergraduate degree she hopes to bridge into medical school.

East Baton Rouge Parish EMS has operated the Explorer program for more than 30 years. Young people aged 14 to 20 spend eight weeks training to become first responders, then they work with EMTs in the field riding ambulances, on stand-by at events, or running the medical team at summer camps for months or years afterward.

Though Thursday’s event was just an information night for interested teens and parents, EMS spokesman Nick McDonner said 2019 is poised to be the explorers’ biggest year with 29 students having pre-registered compared to the usual 25-person cut-off.

“It’s beneficial for the kids to get exposure to the medical field," he said. "Some of them don’t know for sure if that’s what they’re interested in and it’s a good chance for them to try it out.”

He added, “As for the medics, when you’re in a truck every day it can get mundane sometimes, so having these kids and their excitement gives you a renewed excitement for the job.”

Nguyen still participates in the program while she’s studying in college. The opportunity to be hands-on and help people in crisis is something she says she can’t get from a textbook.

“This program is really different from anything else, I could be a scribe or a volunteer at a hospital but I wouldn’t be getting the same experience as I get here,” she said.


Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter, @byemmakennedy.