It might be stretching it a bit to call it “MIT Medical/Killian Court,” but MIT Medical’s once-a-year, tent-based “satellite facility” stands ready to provide an amazing range of medical services during each year’s MIT Commencement. This year was no different, as the tent went up in the southeast corner of Killian Court during the first week of June, and MIT Medical clinicians prepared to care for the Institute’s 2,454 graduates and more than 10,000 family members and guests. In addition, the change in venue this year for Thursday’s doctoral hooding ceremony, from the Johnson Athletics Center Ice Rink to Killian Court, meant two days of staffing the medical tent, rather than the usual one.
While the tent might not be a full-fledged medical facility, much thought goes into equipping it with everything from basic first-aid items to medical supplies that might be needed to respond to more serious medical emergencies, explains Colleen Collins, M.D., chief of MIT Medical’s Urgent Care Service. The tent has a stainless-steel sink with its own water supply, multiple cots with privacy screens, and two dedicated porta-potties, including — new this year — one that is wheelchair accessible.
“After every Commencement, we make note of additional supplies we might stock or things we could do differently,” Collins says. “This year, we were very cognizant of the fact that our Ph.D. grads often have young children, so, before the hooding ceremony on Thursday, we held a briefing that focused on some of the medical emergencies young children might face.” Collins adds that she made a conscious effort to staff the tent both days with nurses and physicians who have experience with children, including some who are certified in pediatric advanced life support.
The 3,000-plus attendees at Thursday’s hooding ceremony enjoyed comfortable temperatures with overcast skies. It was a relatively quiet day in the tent for Collins and Nurse Anne Marcoux — “mostly band-aid requests from women with new shoes and blisters,” notes Collins.
On Friday morning, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and the number of people in Killian Court swelled by more 10,000. Marcoux was back for a second day, accompanied by Sports Medicine Physician Angie Elliott in the morning, Associate Medical Director for Primary Care Patrick Egan in the afternoon, and Family Physician Jen Nohrden, who staffed the tent all day. Chief of Student Health Shawn Ferullo accompanied the long line of graduating seniors from their point of assembly at Rockwell Cage to Killian Court and then joined his colleagues in the medical tent. Also on hand were paramedics from the Cambridge Fire Department and Pro-EMS, an advanced life-support ambulance service, along with a large contingent of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) from MIT’s student-run Emergency Medical Services (MIT EMS), who were stationed throughout Killian Court, enabling them to respond promptly to any medical need.
Along with bandaging new-shoe-related blisters and responding to requests for sunscreen and ibuprofen, a few people came in with heat-related symptoms, sunburns, or symptoms of dehydration. But while clinicians in the tent were often busy, the only serious medical problem involved a guest who was transported to the hospital with symptoms of stroke.
“It was great to see students that we have worked with and assisted during their years at MIT realize their goal on such a beautiful sunny day,” says Ferullo.
Elliott and Nohrden, working the medical tent at Commencement for the first time, echo Ferullo’s sentiments. “It was exciting to see the happiness that graduation brings forth in the graduates and their family members,” Elliot says, “The teamwork of all the campus departments is another remarkable aspect of the day.”
Nohrden also came away from the experience with a new respect for the teamwork involved in creating MIT’s biggest day of the year. “Having attended a graduation as a visitor, I can say that I ‘took for granted’ all the work and prep that goes into making it a successful experience,” she says.
“I now realize what an accomplishment it is for people to ‘take it for granted.’” She continues. “For if everything goes off without a hitch, and there are no hiccups, and people only notice the stage and graduates, that is the ultimate sign of success. Onward to 2020!”