Category: Health Magazine, Summer 2024

Title:Celebrating 40 years of student-run emergency care

Author: Heather Wilpone-Welborn
Date Published: June 14, 2024
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The first GERMS graduation was held at the end of the 1982–1983 academic year and the program is still going strong today.

Over four decades ago, a group of Georgetown undergraduate students started a medical ambulance service to provide faster response to emergency calls on campus. Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS) has since grown into one of the largest student-run ambulance services among U.S. colleges and universities.

Run entirely by undergraduates, GERMS provides free, around-the-clock emergency services to the campus and surrounding neighborhoods of Burleith and Foxhall.

Bob Doherty (C’83, M’87) is credited with founding GERMS in 1982. Faculty physicians helped the initial GERMS members develop protocols and write training materials. All participants needed to pass an EMT test.

The following spring, GERMS members acquired their first ambulance, a converted hearse. Later that year, they answered their first official emergency dispatch from a person who was suffering from chest discomfort and pain. By March 1984, all emergency calls on campus were routed to GERMS. In 1987, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, then dean of Student Affairs, presented GERMS with an Outstanding Student Activity Award and worked to secure the organization additional funding, including subsidized housing to continue their work over the summer. In April 1990, DeGioia was named an honorary member of GERMS.

GERMS now runs a 24/7 service most weeks of the year. The student volunteers operate two ambulances, the oldest of which has responded to more than 3,000 service calls.

“My GERMS days were the foundation of my professional career, and I’m thankful for those who went before and those who have kept it alive.”

—Gates Richards (C’95)

Although many students studying nursing or interested in medical school join GERMS to gain clinical experience, students studying humanities, business, or law also seek to become new inductees.

Gates Richards (C’95) was an English major in the College of Arts & Sciences when he participated in GERMS. “My GERMS days were the foundation of my professional career, and I’m thankful for those who went before and those who have kept it alive,” said Richards, now associate director at the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Wilderness Medicine.

Former GERMS participants have gone on to work as EMTs, nurses, firefighters, and doctors across the country.

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