Tori Ferguson has worked as an EMT in Gallatin County for the last two years. She earned her certification at Gateway Community and Technical College before coming to NKU to major in Biological Sciences.
Tori Ferguson in the new Founders Hall neuroscience research lab surgery suite.
Tori is earning course credit through undergraduate research in Dr. Chris Curran's lab.
Tori managed to keep up her Spring Semester classes by going online on her off days.
Tori Ferguson is well on the road to becoming a Physician Assistant, but her journey to PA school is unique -- marked by the piercing sound of sirens and ambulance rides. She is paying for college by working as an EMT.
Despite her young age, she has already faced the EMT’s most difficult job – informing family members that a loved one has died. But communicating clearly under pressure also led to Ferguson’s most rewarding experience. An elderly woman had fallen and injured her head, but had an anxiety attack and refused to go the hospital. By calmly explaining the risks, she was able to convince the woman to leave her home and get the emergency care she needed.
“I sat in the back of the ambulance with her for the 30-minute drive to the hospital talking to her, holding her hand, and comforting her the entire time. Medically there was nothing I could do to help but just talking with her allowed me to help her.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, Tori faced massive changes both in her biology coursework and on the job with Gallatin County EMS. “My job has changed a lot due to the virus,” said Ferguson. “We have had to find new ways to disinfect the ambulance. We have to reuse our N95 masks for the full 24 hours. At the end of my shift I change into different clothes before going home so I do not take it home with me and I take a shower as soon as I get home.”
Dealing with patients can also be a challenge. “We cannot take our EMS bag into people’s homes anymore, because we don’t want all of the equipment in the bag to become infected. So we take limited supplies in with us. We now require patients to wear surgical masks which can be difficult with patients who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, are claustrophobic, or are having anxiety attacks.”
The demands of the pandemic meant Ferguson needed to complete her 15h of coursework in the new online format while also transitioning from part-time to full-time work. She would study between ambulance runs, but save most of her coursework for her off days. On top of everything, she was also earning independent study credit as an undergraduate researcher.
Amazingly, she remains composed with unwavering dedication to her patients and the Gallatin County community despite the enormous risks she faces from COVID-19. “We are in close quarters for 12 or 24 hours at a time so we can’t really follow social distancing rules. This is worrisome because if someone in the department contracts it, then half of the department will also be out of work and it will be hard to respond to all of the 911 calls with a limited staff.”
Instead of complaining about the overwhelming workload and stress, she says she is grateful for the community’s support. “People are very supportive of the healthcare workers in their community. We have had several people and businesses donate gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, and even bring by different meals and treats to the station.”
The on-the-job training that she never expected has made Ferguson more determined than ever to get to PA school after graduating in December 2020. “This virus made it even more evident that healthcare workers are incredibly important. Even though it is scary that you could become infected, it is important to realize that if it weren’t for healthcare workers then there would be no one to help these people.”
For those still wondering about how to re-open our communities safely, Ferguson offered some sage advice. “If you are going to wear a mask in public, wear it around your mouth and your nose, not just your mouth or you are defeating the purpose. Do not wear the gloves that you wore in the store into your car or your house. That increases the risk of you bringing the virus into your home.”