The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Ander Naugle.

For some, a Gap Year is a time for self-exploration, developing new skills, and enhancing your passions; however, that doesn’t mean you have to completely pretermit the college experience out of it.

For the first part of my Gap Year, I decided to stay in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Here, I was able to tour UNC for the first time (I joke with a few of my friends sometimes by saying I just did a four-month college tour there), as well as gain an in-depth sense of the ambiance surrounding Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Since I stayed in an apartment that was only a 2-mile bike ride to UNC, and most of the students that were originally on campus for the Fall Semester were sent home because of Covid-19, I was able to gain a unique perspective of what life on campus was like. It honestly felt like I was a first-year every time I came to campus; whether that was for food on Franklin Street, studying for my EMT class in Polk Place, or just walking around campus and finding hidden gems scattered all around. Cliché or not, UNC was really starting to feel like home and it honestly feels weird to not be there for the Spring Semester.

Now, with regard to what my service placement in Chapel Hill consisted of and the responsibilities/roles I had that followed with that placement, all I can say is that I still can’t believe I was able to gain such a memorable experience. I moved to Chapel Hill from Florida for the sole reason of an EMT course at the Durham Technical Community College. There, I was able to meet some amazing classmates, all carrying so many unique perspectives/reasons on why they wanted to get involved in healthcare. Luckily, since our class size was so small we were able to have in-person classes (re-emphasizing why it felt like I was a first-year student). It wasn’t until October when I was finally able to utilize some of the knowledge I was learning in class in the real world. The first experience I had as an EMT student was when I was able to help the Orange County Health Department administer over 300 influenza vaccinations.

Additionally, I ended up being the only EMT student (ever, according to my instructor) to do a 13-hour clinical rotation at the UNC SICU (Surgical-Trauma Intensive Care Unit). At the SICU I did not just shadow the nurse I was with but ended up being able to do certain procedures/skills that lined up with my EMT curriculum: vital signs, physical exams, patient transport/maneuvers, reassessment, etc. I was also able to participate in patient rounds, where I was able to learn about the other patients in the SICU and give the attendees/nurses a brief overview of my patients’ conditions/courses of treatment.

Furthermore, I was able to do a 13-hour clinical rotation at the Duke ED (Emergency Department). It was really interesting not only being able to compare/contrast the UNC and Duke Hospital system first hand, but also compare/contrast between working in the ICU and ED. At the ED, I had more experience/knowledge than I did when I was in the ICU so I was able to be more involved. I worked on the main floor at the ED, helped in the Resuscitation Area (Resus), the Pediatric ICU, as well as observed X-rays and CT scans (Computed tomography). At the ED, I helped patients who had a hemorrhagic cerebrovascular accident (stroke), diverticulitis, pancreatitis, hysterectomy, schizophrenia, dementia, pyelonephritis, an 8-month old with respiratory arrest, amongst many other diseases/illness.

Lastly, I was able to put all my experiences together after passing my EMT class and do a 14-hour field shift with the Orange County Emergency Services. For the first two patients, I was honestly very scared because it’s one thing seeing a patient in a hospital and another seeing them at their most vulnerable in their own home/a common area such as a highway. For the first two patients, I only helped gain/monitor vital signs and perform physical exams. However, when I got my third patient contact that day, everything changed. I worked completely one-on-one with the patient (she was involved in a motor vehicle collision). I performed a rapid trauma assessment, obtained my first solo medical history, took vital signs (and knew which ones to take), and came up with my own differential diagnosis which we later told to the faculty we transported her to. Another patient I had that day had an altered mental status and only spoke Spanish so I was able to do my first Cincinnati StrokeTest (in Spanish!), as well as rule out stroke mimics with the Los Angeles Prehospital Stroke Screen. I was then able to make a differential diagnosis that the patient was undergoing a hyperglycemic crisis.

Since I was blessed to be able to fulfill my goal of obtaining my EMT certification for the first part of my Gap Year, I hope I will be able to focus on my Spanish language development for the second part of my Gap Year. Right now I am currently trying to go to Puerto Rico, where I will be able to learn about sustainable agriculture, conservation, and organic farming on the island of Vieques. However, as we all know, nothing is certain during these times so I am just grateful for all the exposure and memories I have gained/made thus far.

Overall, the time I spent in Chapel Hill/Carrboro and the experiences I have made thus far are merely impossible to fit into one blog post. I am thankful for having the opportunity to already be a licensed EMT in the state of North Carolina (all before I even attend college), and I am even more thankful for the chance to come back to UNC’s campus in Fall 2021 to further procure valuable career experience in the medical field and spend time there as an actual first-year student.