Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Safety First on the Mountain and Abroad

In addition to my duties as the senior director of health and safety for People to People Ambassador Programs, I also deal with health and safety issues in my personal life. Every Friday night, I serve as a ski patroller at Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park. On the mountain, my role is to serve as a friendly host for mountain management, and to respond to any customer who has fallen or is injured. My first introduction to the ski patrol happened when I lived in Minnesota at the famous Buck Hill, where Olympic Gold Medalist Lindsey Vonn got her start.
I bring up Buck Hill not because of the connection to Mrs. Vonn or the many other champions that learned to race on this small hill, but instead to share an important lesson I learned there. This lesson has had a direct impact on what I do today for People to People Ambassador Programs; more specifically, on how our teacher leaders are trained.

That's Not Your Name!

One night, while in the aid room of the Ski Patrol building at Buck Hill, I found myself in conversation with a medical doctor who also happened to be a patroller at Buck Hill. The patroller’s name tag was not the name I knew, and I had to know the reason behind his deception. I asked him, “Why do you have that name on your name tag? That’s not your name!” His answer was that in his daily life he is an orthopedic surgeon, but when he is on the mountain, his role is to perform as a ski patroller, not a doctor. The reason he changed his name tag and went by a completely different name while on duty was his way of reminding himself that he is only to perform the duties and skills a regular patroller is expected to perform.
At the time I didn’t grasp the magnitude of what he was saying; in fact, I found it a little strange. This man possessed the knowledge and skills to perform corrective surgery right on the hill, but deliberately chose not to. In hindsight, I should have known better, as this topic was covered as part of my initial training at Buck Hill, and it came up again when I went through the entire Outdoor Emergency Care Course (OEC) to become a patroller for Mount Spokane.

Leader Roles and Requirements
At People to People Ambassador Programs, our teacher leaders face a similar dilemma. Many of our leaders are school nurses or student counselors in their normal role as a teacher, but when they are on our program they are responsible for the health, safety, and guardianship of your child. In this role they are trained to only perform the duties expected and required of our leaders.

Each of our leaders completes a grueling application process to become a People to People Ambassador Programs teacher leader. This process includes the application process, letters of recommendation, and a background check that must be updated on a regular basis. They must also complete hands-on CPR training annually, a complex set of annual on-line training modules including competency testing, and in-person group training provided by our local area directors. These individuals are highly trained by our organization and bring to the role their countless years of experience in the classroom educating and developing young talent. But if a situation arises on program where a student needs medical attention, or some form of counseling, these teachers will contact our program office and the on-call team that stands ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support them and receive guidance on the next steps to be taken. They will most always be instructed to seek professional medical attention so that we know without a doubt how to treat the problem.

Much like the patroller at Buck Hill, a teacher leader may possess the skills to address the more serious issues that come up, but will instead stay within the definition of the role of a teacher leader and in that role, move to expediently transport the student into the professional medical emergency response system (EMS).

Our Policy

At People to People Ambassador Programs, we think this is the best method for handling serious situations, not a small scratch or bump. If something minor needs treatment, a leader will address that situation using one of the travel first-aid kits we provide to each primary leader. The larger situations I am referring to are highly unlikely, yet more serious situations where we want a medical professional’s opinion. Once in the EMS system, we can then leverage our relationship with On-Call International. They provide our organization with interpreters who connect a doctor on the On-Call staff with the physician treating the student abroad. This way, we get accurate and reliable information in a timely manner so that we can keep the family back home informed while ensuring the student is in safe hands.

I’m not saying that any of our teacher leaders has changed his or her name while on program. I’m merely using a rather extreme example to convey my point: our teacher leaders stand ready to respond to any situation. They are highly trained, and in the unlikely event that a serious situation arises, they know to perform to the level required of a teacher leader, and to quickly, calmly, and efficiently transport any student to a medical facility if there is any doubt about the student’s condition.

Until next time, wishing you safe and happy travels!



  1. Eddy Nalls, Va. Area DirectorApril 9, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    Thank you for writing this article and keeping this blog. I make a point of checking the site weekly. I appreciate reading that even though we have some school nurses and school counselors traveling, "in this role they are trained to only perform the duties expected and required of our leaders."
    That is a very important point to remember.

  2. Hi Eddy - Thanks for your comment and for stopping by weekly to see what’s new.

    I’m glad you think I hit the mark with the statements about roles and responsibilities of our leaders. I would have liked to have gone even further but you know we have to keep the blog short or no one would take the time to read it. The fact is, even if I were a doctor, which of course am not, I would never provide a specific medical evaluation over the phone and I don’t think anyone in the profession would. By doing so, the medical professional would be taking a great deal of risk and liability on their own shoulders. That’s why I used the Ski Patrol example. The only way to be absolutely sure of someone’s condition, or as sure as one can get on an individual’s condition, is to get them to a medical professional so they can be seen in person. Our partner, On-Call International, can then assess the information provided by that facility.