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Cooper Scherr and Kennedy Sundberg: Emergency Medical Services

Cooper Scherr and Kennedy Sundberg, the former and current directors of Santa Clara’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organization. Each member is a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). EMT’s are the first responders to on-campus emergencies, and can provide stabilizing medical care to patients. Several members of the EMS “squad” are on duty each night from 5pm to 8am to respond to any emergencies. The organization is almost entirely student-run, and provides excellent medial training for a range of students interested in many fields of health and medicine.


Cooper Scherr is a graduating senior history major, and Kennedy Sundberg is a junior biology major and the current director of EMS. In this episode, you’ll hear how Cooper and Kennedy found the squad, what non-medical people can learn from their experience, and how becoming an EMT has shaped their college experience.


Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: Is it empowering to know that you are able to help people in emergencies?


Cooper Scherr: It definitely removes a sense of helplessness. On the one hand, the further you go in medicine, the easier it is to realize what you don’t know. We’re definitely aware of where we stand in the medical hierarchy, but on the other hand, we are confident in dealing with medical emergencies. There have been multiple occasions where I’m off-duty and emergencies have come up, and when you’re able to step up to the plate with an even-keeled attitude, it is empowering.


Kennedy Sundberg: After I got certified and joined the squad, a lot of my friends would ask me to check up on them. One friend said, “I think I broke my ankle.” And I replied, “Well I can’t really tell if you broke your ankle, you’re going to have to go to the doctor.” Sometimes people think we can heal everything for them.


GC: What role did joining the EMS squad play in your social lives?


CS: When I first joined the squad my sophomore year, I was really nervous. I wanted to prove myself, that I had earned it. The first year, you are very welcomed by the upperclassmen, but I never really felt extremely settled. I had other obligations on campus, so I was trying to do my best to fulfill all my duties on the squad and try to find a home with the EMT’s.


Junior year as director, it’s hard to feel like you’re part of the group when you’re the leader. But this year, it has been the most rewarding experience of my life… having a great community of people that I feel so connected with.


KS: When I took the EMT training class, I got very close to about six of the people in the class, and all of them got on the squad with me. My newbie year, getting to know them was really incredible. I threw myself in, trying to be as involved as possible. I felt really tight-knit as a sophomore. As Cooper was saying, when you become director, you’re a peer among peers but also the leader. I was worried that I would lose some of that closeness if I was president. This year, even though I’ve still felt really close, especially to our leadership team this year. The EMT’s are some of my best friends on campus and I’m really grateful that being on the squad has given me the opportunity to know them.


GC: What leadership lessons have you learned from being director?


KS: I really strive to be approachable as a leader. This year, a lot of the squad members feel comfortable approaching me, which I’m grateful for. I’ve also definitely learned to be confident in the decisions I make. When I first became director, I felt like I was always second-guessing myself, reading emails I was about to send three times. Any times someone would comment on something I would say, I would wonder what I could do better. Now I feel more confident in what I say and do.


CS: The directorship definitely transformed my understanding of servant leadership. Here at SCU EMS, we are a pretty autonomous group. As director, you have to get used to making personal sacrifices, because it can be a 24/7 job. It’s not just going to meetings, it’s also being present at social functions and representing the squad at every level. I’m able to look back on my time with a lot of satisfaction and pride, that I hope I left the squad better off than before.


GC: Is there anything that a student not in EMS can learn from your experience?


CS: Being an EMT helps put a lot of your problems in perspective. When you are with someone in their darkest hour, you realize everything that’s going well in your own life. That’s one of the blessings of being an EMT, you can help people and gain some perspective into other people’s hardships. We definitely emphasize self-care, that if you’re on a stressful call you should take time to debrief. I’m not advocating for over-working yourself, but being on the squad you’re able to reap the benefits, that hard work pays off.

I also think being an EMT has been a great lesson in asking for help and not being ashamed of that. There’s a whole wealth of knowledge we don’t possess, and there’s always more to learn. It’s a great lesson in humility.


KS: I would also say, confidence and kindness. Something that I’ve learned is being confident in your decisions, because there’s never going to be a completely right answer. Something special about the SCU EMT’s is that we try to treat every patient with kindness.


GC: Has EMS shaped or refined your career plans?


CS: I’m still on the path to being a doctor, so it hasn’t changed that. But it’s been a great aid in helping me refine that passion. I’ve been able to volunteer in the community off-campus in emergency departments, go abroad and volunteer in a medical capacity as well. Those experiences have definitely informed my understanding of medicine, and that’s been really beneficial. I’ve gotten to see the good you can promote by being a health care professional. Being an EMT has made me even more dead set on becoming a physician.  


KS: I’m exploring different career paths now, but health care is still something I’m really interested in. Working in EMS has definitely solidified that for me. I definitely want to go into a line of work that involves service. My work on the leadership team and as director has showed me that I want to have leadership work in my job.  


GC: Have there been any particularly memorable class you’ve taken?


CS: I really enjoyed “Living with Zeus.” It was an Honors class, but the topic was outstanding. It was taking Homer’s epic, the Iliad, and drawing parallels to Christina scripture. It was really enlightening for me as a history major.


KS: One of them was “Bad Girls of the Bible,” which was my religion 2. I think that’s a pretty infamous class. It was super cool to explore the bible from a feminist lens, because I’ve gone to catholic schools my whole life and only really been taught in one way.


Also, my CTW my first year was focused on food, the environment and natural farming. That was really influential because I’m a vegan now. It taught me to think differently about what’s best for the environment.


GC: If you could send a message to everyone in the United States, what would you want to say?


CS: We’re all human. I think all too often we find things that divide us. It’s pretty enlightening to see what connects everybody through the calls that we go through – everyone has similar hopes, fears and dreams. We’re more connected than we are normally aware of.


KS: Before you form your own opinions, try to consider other perspectives. It doesn’t hurt to educate yourself.  Also, to take care of our planet a little better. It’s good to us so we should be good to it.

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