BUFFALO, N.Y.— She doesn’t get paid but wears a
pager at all times and every five weeks from midnight to 6 a.m., 7
days a week, she is on call. She is one of the first faces
you might see when you call 911 for a medical emergency in the
Village of Williamsville. She is an Emergency Medical Technician
(EMT) – a lieutenant by night and a University at Buffalo
nursing student by day.
Her name is Kelly Smith and when you meet her only one word
comes to mind: dynamo.
“I’m a natural critical thinker and I like the
challenge of solving problems under pressure,” says Smith,
who will receive her BS at the School of Nursing’s
commencement ceremony on May 11.
All the members of Smith’s family are devoted volunteer
firefighters and they passed that dedication on to her. At 15, she
participated in the Explorer program, a division of the Boy Scouts,
which trains young male and female future volunteer firefighters.
She studied for the EMT while still in high school, spending nine
hours every Saturday attending training.
At 17, Smith assisted in writing the transition policy for
Junior Firefighters to become fully active volunteer firefighters
with her department. At 18, she became a fully active
volunteer firefighter / EMT with the Williamsville Fire
“Being a volunteer firefighter / EMT shapes the way you
behave in your personal life. You see the effects of poor choices
on health and wellbeing,” says Smith. “It makes
you less impulsive – you actually think before you
Smith started at the University at Albany but wanted to become a
nurse and Albany didn’t have a nursing program. She could
have chosen any of the nursing schools in Western New York but she
wanted “the full college experience.”
“I wanted a large university that had collegiate sports,
concerts, big classes and a big campus, as well as a solid nursing
program,” Smith says. “But I have to say that even
though UB is big, the nursing school feels like my
While there is some overlap in what EMTs and nurses know and do,
Smith says her UB student nursing experience has shown her that
“nurses know so much more than I realized.
“They don’t just know the signs and symptoms of one
disease, they have to know all diseases because they have to be
prepared for any type of patient,” she says.
Smith describes going on calls as an EMT as challenging because
many times individuals look healthy when you get into their homes
but that the EMTs know the person is struggling internally and must
therefore quickly assess what is needed.
Nurses on the other hand often get to work with the patients
longer, spending more time with them. But Smith says it’s
very demanding because each nurse is responsible for many patients
rather than one at a time.
Smith says that it’s a major challenge to transition from
student nurse to graduate professional nurse but that her
professors have been thorough in preparing students for what
they’ll face as new graduates.
She knows she is ready to graduate because of the experience she
had with six other nursing students this past winter break.
In the middle of volunteering as an EMT and right after the fall
semester’s finals, Smith went to Nicaragua—not to
vacation, but to volunteer. Each student paid her own way to help
set up a clinic in a church with other medical professionals to
administer health care to poor Nicaraguan families.
Smith and her classmates carried with them 75 pounds of medical
supplies and saw 200 patients. Some adults had never been seen by a
medical professional before coming to this clinic. Smith was able
to put her EMT training, as well as her student nurse training, to
“People were crying as they thanked us because they were
so grateful for the care we brought,” says Smith.
Smith feels confident in her nursing education and is especially
thankful for the leadership classes she has taken at UB.
“I’ve learned to think independently and when that
day comes when I’m asked to be a charge nurse, I’ll be
ready,” Smith says.