Syracuse University Magazine

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Paul Smyth

Emergency Work

As the emergency medical services manager for Syracuse University Ambulance (SUA), Paul Smyth never knows what to expect on any given day. Amid ambulance calls for broken bones, the flu, and car accidents, he may find himself at a reception recruiting incoming students for SUA, taking an ambulance in for maintenance work, or sifting through the paperwork covering his desk. Such is life for Smyth, who oversees daily operations at SUA—dispatching ambulances, responding to emergency calls, transporting patients, and training and supervising student emergency medical technicians (EMTs). “Emergency work is what I have been doing for 20 years,” Smyth says. “You can’t be in this job too long if you don’t handle stress well.” 

Last August, Smyth took over the position at SUA, a Health Services-based organization that involves more than 70 students who are trained as EMTs and dispatchers. They are the first-responders on campus to more than 1,500 medical emergencies each year, ranging from minor injuries to serious illnesses and accidents. When he joined SUA, Smyth set goals he hoped to accomplish. In less than a year, he has achieved six of eight tasks on his checklist. One change he instituted was the use of glucometry, which allows EMTs to test a patient’s blood sugar. For another, he collaborated with SU Information Technology and Services to replace handwritten patient reports with electronic records that provide clear, detailed information, enabling them to easily track patients’ medical histories. “I want to make the organization neat and well-organized,” Smyth says. “And I’m glad everything is running smoothly so far.”

Prior to joining the SU staff, Smyth worked as a paramedic at the North Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps (NAVAC) in North Syracuse for 16 years, including three years as the director of operations. He provided a range of services, from delivering babies and treating car-accident victims to taking care of people with cardiac disease or who suffered heart attacks. When patients came to say “thank you,” it meant a lot to him, he says. 

Smyth credits NAVAC’s executive director for teaching him management skills that helped him handle the transition to his SUA duties. He finds it refreshing to work with a group of college students interested in the medical field and dedicated to SUA. When he responds to emergencies, especially if the patients are nervous or scared, the veteran paramedic takes a few minutes to explain to them how the process works and often jokes with them to ease their tension. “I try to get people comfortable,” he says. “Let them know everything is taken care of, and we’re here to help.”

Professional know-how earned Smyth the Emergency Medical Services Advisor of the Year award from the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation. He received the recognition at the foundation’s conference in Baltimore in February. When he heard his name announced, he was surprised to learn SUA students had nominated him for the honor. “I had no idea they wrote all the recommendation letters to support me,” Smyth says. “I felt honored they recognized me, even though I’ve just been here for a short time. Now all I’m thinking about is what I’ll do next.” 

Smyth says he enjoys working at SUA and finds it rewarding to see student volunteers graduating with emergency medical experience. “I look forward to continuing to provide good emergency medical services to the SU community,” he says. “We’ll be there if anyone needs us. And I’m always ready to help.”  —Yuhan Xu