Editorial: TEMS volunteers should be compensated

For the past three decades, the entirely student-run Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS) has served the Tufts community. Today, the members that comprise TEMS provide 24-hour care, seven days a week for the entire school year, responding to around 400 calls per year. They often remain on call during class, work major school events and return early to campus before the start of each semester. To top it off, they further promote the public health of campus by distributing first-aid kits and teaching American Heart Association-certified CPR classes that are open to the Tufts community.

There is no doubt then that being a member of TEMS is time-consuming, but ultimately a rewarding and unique experience, especially for those who seek further education and careers in medicine. Even though TEMS volunteers assuredly value these experiences, it is also important for the Tufts community to show that we, in turn, value TEMS. Such value should not simply be a gesture of gratitude, but the actual economic value of their unpaid labor. While paying an hourly rate may not be feasible for Tufts at this time, it should ultimately be the goal. Until then, there are many smaller ways that the university can financially support the members of TEMS and make it accessible to a more economically diverse group of students.

One clear and straightforward way to mitigate the financial burden for students would be to reimburse the $1,000 fee for their certification exam and class once they are admitted into TEMS. While students currently enrolled in PE 131 would have no guarantee that the cost would be covered, this could ensure that the certified EMTs who are actually serving the Tufts community are financially supported. Because this structure may still discourage students from taking the class in the first place, it may be beneficial to also offer grants upfront or waive the course fee for those with demonstrated need.

Furthermore, TEMS could change its structure from a volunteer group to an apprenticeship, or even classify it as an internship. At Penn State University, once a student volunteer has gained the experience and knowledge to train other EMS hopefuls, they may be promoted to paid staff member.

It may even be possible that such work could qualify for federal work-study. Federal work-study emphasizes work in public service and career-related fields, which TEMS clearly does. So even if Tufts does not have the resources to fund hourly wages or a semesterly stipend, just classifying TEMS as an internship could make it possible for students to qualify for external or Tufts Career Center grants.

It is unfortunate that these highly qualified, professionally certified students work unpaid for a typically well-paid job, all the while bearing the costs of a pricey certification process. And although it is uncommon for student-run EMSs to be paid positions at universities, by principle, these students ought to be paid the fair wages they have earned. We hope that Tufts can set that example and show our gratitude to each member on TEMS for keeping us all safe, healthy and happy.