First-year medical student uses EMT training during in-flight emergency


First-year medical student, Paige Stearn, OMS-I, had an eventful season prior to entering the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine with the class of 2027. On May 16, Stearn, who worked as an Emergency Medical Technician prior to entering medical school, was on a flight back from South Africa when she heard the words come over the loudspeaker: “Is there a doctor on board?”

“I told them I was an EMT, and no one else stood up, so they took me back,” Stearn recalls.

She was then led to the back of the plane where a 23-year-old pregnant woman was having a medical emergency.

“The woman was having some kind of pregnancy complication. She was in so much pain, and because we were over water, we couldn’t do an emergency landing – I pretty much just stayed with her for the remaining three hours of the flight,” Stearn said, providing details of what happened during that time.

“I put her on oxygen, and I gave her some medications. They called MedAir, the medical authority working on the ground at stand-by. I was talking to one of their on-call physicians, and we figured out what the best course of action would be for this woman, because she was really sick.”

After those three hours, the flight was able to make the emergency landing in Atlanta, where an ambulance was waiting on the ground.

“I’ve never been on that side of things,” Stearn said of her first off-the-clock medical emergency. She worked as an EMT during her final year of college and the gap year before medical school. “When I’m on the clock, I’ve always taken calls knowing what situation I’m going into, and I have my equipment, so being on a plane with nothing was crazy.”

Stearn earned her undergraduate degree from MSU in Human Biology and became inspired by osteopathic medicine as a teen. “I was sick when I was a kid, and never had that great of an experience with any kind of physician until I was about 17 and I met this restorative medicine doctor – She was an M.D. but trained under a D.O. at her residency, where she learned all the osteopathic tenets and principles,” Stearn recalls, adding the attitude and bedside manner she experienced from her restorative medicine doctor were what ultimately inspired her to enter the osteopathic profession.

“She was more than just a doctor — she was such a compassionate person. She really cared about helping her patients and not about the money or anything else,” Stearn said. “So, I just fell in love with medicine. I’ve always loved science, but I never realized until I was around 18 years old, ‘maybe I should be a physician.”

Outside of emergency medicine, Stearn also works as a yoga instructor, drawn by the common values found within yoga and osteopathic medicine, including the connection between mind, body and spirit.

“A lot of osteopathic physicians are super into yoga and wellness,” she points out. “The philosophy of both is ‘how do we solve the root of the issue? How do we live an overall healthier life?’”

The event that took place on Stearn’s trip back from South Africa seems to be just the beginning. She notices that since becoming an EMT, she has found herself in increasingly more off-the-clock situations where people need medical assistance.

“Every time these things happen, it reinforces that this is what I’m very passionate about,” she said. “My boyfriend’s grandfather fell recently, and I was the only one there who really knew what to do. We were in New York and a girl passed out behind me – It’s happening everywhere! But I love being able to help people, and my goal is to help people the way I was helped growing up.

“I was sick, and someone helped me, and it felt great. And now, I just want everyone to live the best, healthiest life that they can.”

Stearn is excited about being a part of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine’s class of 2027 to expand upon her base and experiences in emergency medicine and embark on this next step toward a career as a physician.

“At this point in time, I don’t have that many skills under my belt,” she said. “I know how to deal with basic emergencies, but to be a physician you have to have so much more knowledge and so many more ways to help someone and really give your patients a healthier life, which is what I’m so looking forward to learning.”