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Alumni Testimonials

Alumnus Timothy So

Timothy So: Emergency Medical Technician

Hey, I am Tim, and I currently work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), moving on to becoming a paramedic! I graduated from Queens College in 2018 as an English major with a focus in pre-medicine. My time at Queens College was a rollercoaster, in my first two years I was a mess. I was working full time and going to school full time just taking general requirements to just check off what I had to complete for a degree. This time was the hardest for me. I struggled finding my motivation to go to school, and especially due to financial problems at home, I told myself that working was more important than school. I suddenly stopped going to class and doing the work needed. I became pretty lazy with school as I lost all drive. I had no guidance and as a result I failed two classes my first year. My second year I was placed on academic probation and actually was kicked out, having to appeal to get back in and fix the mess I made.

As I look back now, I realize I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went to school because it was the “right thing to do” and I thought it’d make my family happy. I ended up taking a year off and picked up a second job. Near the end of the year, I realized I was still missing something. There was no goal in sight, and I was just going through the motions. I came back to school to figure out what to do. With the help of the amazing counselors in Frese Hall and my peers, I was able to get back into school and try again.

I was given the advice of choosing a major, and at the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do medicine. So I chose English because I liked reading and was decent at writing essays, and to be real honest, it was mostly because I had the most credits in English done and it meant a faster path to graduating. While I am sure it isn’t the most ideal way of choosing a major, it changed my life. Because I chose English, I was able to find my path and make changes for my future. Thinking critically, analyzing texts, and writing essays aren’t what I do as an EMT, they have definitely made better at my job. I write some pretty good patient care reports and narrative thanks to my English classes. I read charts and medical journals often, as medicine is my career choice, and the skills I obtained in class have came in handy.

What I just want to say is that, I struggled a lot in college and it took me a while to find my way. However, the English department staff, my studies, and the resources at Queens College helped me turn my life around and focused me on finding my career path and goals. I entered the school with not a clue on what I was going to do. I had so many different career choices in mind, and I realized through struggling those first two years at school that my passion was medicine–and specifically patient care. Many co-workers ask, why did I stick with English if I decided to do medicine? Really it is because English helped me question and analyze everything, be more critical and really express myself in way that impacted me and has helped me grow. I remember sitting in Professor Tougaw’s class, Writing about Popular Music, and getting the chance to make a mixtape of songs chronicling a day of EMS work—and writing about it, sharing with the class a mixtape that creates a picture of my work. I felt great, I was able to think about my work in a way I never thought of before and was able to share it with others.

The things I have learned and gained from school reignited my passion and drive, and now I am going on to the next step of Emergency medicine, which is paramedicine, and will keep pushing on to nursing or med school after that. My advice is just to continue to put the work in. Your time in undergraduate is to find yourself if you haven’t already and put you on the path to bigger and better things. It has for me and the struggles you go through and the things you learn at school will build you up.

I remember hearing that the first case of this new virus had touched home in the U.S—in Washington State—back in January 2020. I’ll admit, I was alert to it, but I wasn’t too worried. Snap to the present. It has now become my life. As of April 20th, 2020, only three short months later, there are an estimated 746,625 cases in the U.S and 238,138 cases here at home in New York State. It has exploded into this huge pandemic and has changed a lot of my work. My experience right now has been two-fold: local and federal. I was given the opportunity to work with FEMA and the Federal government in a disaster response team. I was away from my house for two weeks (some are there for 30 days!). We were blessed to be able to get a hotel, but also sometimes we had to sleep in the ambulance. Being on the clock 24/7, we helped alleviate the city’s 911 system by adding more units to the streets or do transports with COVID-positive patients to the temporary hospitals on the USS Comfort and the Jacob Javits Center. What is amazing is that EMTs and paramedics all around the country have come together as one under FEMA to help flatten the curve and fix the situation. In my team, I had people from NYC, Indiana, Georgia, and Texas. With call numbers reaching record highs every day and the rate of cases always increasing—the highest number is usually yearly 5000, but since the middle of march calls were hitting 7400 a day—the workload was intense sometimes, but with time the process has become more efficient and things have been getting done.

Locally, working for a private ambulance company in NYC and Yonkers 911, the job has been a bit different. The same resources are not available. As the pandemic has been developing, so has the world of EMS. Hospitals and their workers are overwhelmed. ERs are packed with people, with deceased patients next to them due to the lack of space. Cardiac arrests have increased more than five times as the virus claims more lives. In addition, there are problems with equipment. We are trained on proper protective equipment to wear for particular patients. However, my co-workers and I joke about how many times the guidelines on proper protective equipment have been changed. During the first two weeks, we ran out of gowns, masks. and cleaning wipes. We were told to re-wear masks and clean them with a sanitizing wipes for extended periods times—for items designed for single use. Sometimes these situations are dire. I have seen co-workers getting sick due to COVID exposure as a result of lack of information or equipment. Problems sometimes even reach home, as COVID panic has affected some healthcare workers, including me—for example, and being forced to move by landlords. Because of our job, there are risks of bringing the virus home. There are a lot of problems, but even in the face of the virus and its rippling effects, I know many amazing people that continue to go to work and face the risks head on to help improve this situation. While all this is terrible, with worldwide effects, and things may look bleak at points, I’m sometimes in awe at the tenacity and strength of the people working on the problem—not only my coworkers on the frontlines, but the people adhering to social prevention strategies. It’s all a team effort, and as a team we can flatten the curve and get things back to a normalcy. While things may look dark, we persevere. That’s amazing.

Check out Tim’s “EMS Mixtape” essay here.

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