If you’ve ever seen an automated external defibrillator (AED) on campus — or had to use one — you have the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad (VTRS) and the efforts of Rachael Ward to thank.

As a graduating senior and dedicated VTRS member, Ward is also the coordinator for the University Public Access AED Program. The program has placed approximately 180 AEDs throughout campus in highly visible, high-pedestrian traffic areas and is responsible for regular inspections, replacement of parts, and 24/7 response to maintenance requests.

The all-student, volunteer-run Virginia Tech Rescue Squad performs the same functions of a municipal rescue squad, handling nearly 1,200 emergency calls every year. In addition, the squad provides emergency medical services at all major university and athletic events on the Blacksburg campus.

Ward joined the squad in spring 2018. She had grown up listening to stories of her mother’s own EMT adventures in college and loved hearing about the close-knit camaraderie of squad members. When a friend asked her to go to an interest meeting for the rescue squad, the choice to attend was an obvious one.

On top of the demanding coursework required to complete her degree in experimental neuroscience within the Virginia Tech College of Science's School of Neuroscience this December, Ward dedicates about 30-40 hours per week to the rescue squad.

She has had many different jobs and responsibilities within the VTRS. Along with being on-call for emergencies and carrying out administrative duties, Ward also completed advanced EMT classes and became the Advanced Life Support (ALS) team leader.

As an ALS team leader, Ward is in charge of the patient care provided by her crew during regularly scheduled duty. She also ensures her night crew completes their weekly training, runs new members through mock calls, and listens for calls outside of the Basic Life Support scope that need more intervention.

In addition to these duties, Ward’s serves as coordinator for the AED program on campus.

The goal of the AED program that Ward coordinates is to increase the survival rate of individuals who have suffered sudden cardiac arrest. A person who receives a defibrillation, an electric shock aimed at restarting the heart, within two-to-three minutes has a 90 percent greater chance of surviving than someone who does not receive a shock. The only device that can provide this shock is an AED.

As the AED coordinator, Ward is responsible for managing the AED team, making sure their budget is spent purchasing the correct equipment and tools needed to be successful, handling requests for new AEDs on campus and deploying them to the best locations, and managing more than $300,000 worth of equipment.

Ward also conducts research through various fellowships and internships. Every semester since spring 2018, she has worked in the Theus Laboratory researching various traumatic brain injury and neuroimmunology projects. For the past two summers, Ward received funding to complete research through the Chappell Lab in the neuroSURF program as a School of Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Fellow. She was also a 2018-19 Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellow while working in the Theus Lab. 

As her time at Virginia Tech comes to an end, Ward will look back fondly at the connections she made with current VTRS members and alumni squad members who came to VTRS banquets and events.

“Surrounding myself with so many alumni and students to meet and swap stories has been the most valuable experience. They are the most passionate and driven group of people I’ve ever met,” said Ward.

Ward plans to go on to graduate school and earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She also hopes to work in that field while serving as an EMT in her spare time.

- Written by Christy Myers

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