When there’s a medical emergency on the University of Pennsylvania campus or in the surrounding West Philadelphia community, the emergency medical technicians who respond are often Penn students. And one of them may well be Max Presser.
The student-run Medical Emergency Response Team, of which Presser is chief, is a group of trained EMTs who assist Penn Police and the Philadelphia Fire Department in providing pre-hospital care in medical emergencies. MERT members travel by bicycle to reach people in need. When immediate medical attention is necessary, MERT members perform procedures such as CPR.
“On any given week we could see any type of call,” says Max Presser, a rising senior. “We’ve seen strokes and heart attacks, allergic reactions, asthma attacks and anything you could imagine any medical professional would see.”
MERT’s coverage area is the same as the Penn Police’s patrol area from 30th Street to 43rd Street and between Market Street and Baltimore Avenue.
“Sometimes they’re really not emergencies,” Presser says. “It’s sometimes someone who’s a little sick and scared, but that’s still something we need to respond to. We’re able to help calm them down.”
To become a member of MERT, students undergo extensive training. They’re required to complete a semester-long course to receive their EMT basic certification, and they also take a bike class sponsored by Penn Police.
Penn’s communications center dispatches MERT along with a Penn police officer or security guard to the scene of an emergency medical situation. If a patient needs to go to the hospital, the city fire department handles transportation.
Working closely with many Penn departments, including Student Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services and student government, MERT helps to keep the community safe. The MERT team is on duty at campus activities such as Penn Recreation events, Spring Fling, Commencement and Hey Day.
An Elkins Park, Pa., native and a health and sciences major with a minor in Korean, Presser became involved in MERT in his freshman year by becoming a certified EMT. During his time at Penn, he’s held several MERT leadership positions. As the training officer in 2012, Presser developed and led weekly medical trainings. Now, as chief, he oversees the team’s 60 members and is in charge of the group’s daily operations.
MERT’s dedicated all-volunteer crew each work as many as 50 hours of shifts each month, while juggling classwork and extra-curricular and social activities.
Presser sees his work in MERT as a training ground for his future career as a doctor.
“It’s a great opportunity to develop ways to deal with different types of people in different situations,” he says. “If someone has a broken leg and is screaming in pain, you have to talk to them differently than someone who’s having a asthma attack, so it’s been interesting to figure that out early on.”
When Presser’s term as MERT’s chief expires in December, it will give him some more time to plan for medical school.