Arriving at the main medical tent of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon at 4 a.m. might not sound like an ideal Sunday, but for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine students Pietro Bortoletto and Anita Goyal, it was an incredible privilege.
Bortoletto and Goyal had spent the summer helping to train more than 540 medical volunteers for this event. They worked with George Chiampas, DO, marathon director and assistant professor in emergency medicine, to prepare the 22 cross-disciplinary teams consisting of physical therapists, athletic trainers, medical students, podiatrists, and nurses on how to treat participants.
“I was extremely excited on race day,” said Goyal, a third-year medical student. “Volunteering is truly an inspiring and eye-opening experience that keeps my adrenaline high and my dedication growing every year.”
Chiampas has always incorporated medical students from Feinberg in volunteer and leadership roles at the marathon. This year, 50 Feinberg medical, physician assistant, and physical therapy students volunteered.
Goyal ran the Chicago marathon in 2009 after being involved in the marathon community for years. An injury prevented her from running the following year, so she encouraged and recruited several medical students to volunteer with her instead.
“Dr. Chiampas encouraged my efforts, and through his mentorship, I joined the medical volunteer team in a leadership capacity,” she said. “I witnessed the same perseverance I had seen from a runner’s perspective in the efforts of the medical team and its organized delivery of care to each and every runner it saw.”
Goyal commented that the event teaches the power of commitment through “runners who run for a cause or for themselves, physicians who pledge themselves to medicine, and volunteers who come back every year to support the runners in their goals. There is a very strong sense of duty among everyone on race day, it’s really great.”
Working with the medical team for the past few years, Goyal said she has learned from the physicians she has volunteered with and that her experiences have reaffirmed her interest in helping patients lead a healthy, active lifestyle, and furthered her career goals in sports medicine.
“This event and its preparation provide me with much insight into the changing face of medicine, and of the provision of healthcare in high-demand situations,” she said. “This has both taught me a lot of practical applications of what we learn in the books, and also has introduced me to new career and research opportunities I have chosen to pursue.”
As Goyal enters her final year of medical school, she will pass her marathon responsibilities to second-year student Bortoletto. Next year, it will be part of his role to recruit volunteers.
As a first-year medical student, Bortoletto volunteered at the main medical tent at the marathon. While initially he was intimidated by the rows and rows of beds, Bortoletto enjoyed the experience and approached Chiampas about becoming more involved.
“I was interested in what it is like to run these types of events,” Bortoletto said. “I wanted a leadership position so I could see how a race like this was organized. How many blankets? Where do we have Gatorade? Where do we have salt tablets?”
As part of their role, Goyal and Bortoletto’s responsibilities included prepping volunteers for the different medical conditions runners may experience along the 26.2 mile course. With help from the Simulation Technology & Immersive Learning (STIL) program, they created short videos about what volunteers should expect on race day, such as dehydration, cardiac arrest, and labor deliveries.
This year, with colder than usual temperatures on race day, the medical teams treated runners with hypothermia and flu-like symptoms. Also, with the implementation of a new electronic patient tracking system, they could offer better information for families looking for runners who were receiving medical attention.
“I was a bit apprehensive in the event that I would have to save someone’s life, but I took big pride in keeping everything running smoothly,” Bortoletto said. “It is a great experience getting to see how teams work in close quarters together and incorporating the skills we shared with them as patients come into the tent.”
“On our very first day of medical school, we are told medicine is about pit crews and not cowboys. Although we have limited exposure in our first two years to interdisciplinary work, it is events like the marathon that allow you to get a real sense of how important teams are in delivering quality healthcare. Medical students are able to not only work with a group, but also develop a better understanding of what their role is and how they can best contribute,” he said.