Spring 2015
Festivals offer unique training, needed patient care

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Check presentation event at The Linq Fountain Stage in Las Vegas

Generous support

Left, Angel Williams, Minddie Lloyd, Pasquale Rotella and Dale Carrison, D.O., at the check presentation event last fall at The Linq Fountain Stage in Las Vegas. Photo by Denise Truscello/Insomniac.

Desert, urban environments require working under ‘extreme’ conditions

Story by Anne McMillin, APR

Two Nevada festivals provide medical students and residents with unique learning opportunities while providing patient care to thousands of attendees.

The annual Burning Man Festival on the Black Rock playa 100 miles north of Reno offers a unique training atmosphere for medical students and residents alike over Labor Day weekend.

Under the umbrella of Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca, which has been responsible for medical care at the festival that sees upward of 55,000 participants, several fourth-year School of Medicine students cut their teeth triaging and treating everything from chemical burns from alkali playa dust to lacerations and broken bones from falling off art cars to dehydration and street drug overdoses last fall.

“For such an inhospitable environment, it is amazing how sophisticated and well set-up Rampart, the main hospital, is,” said Jimmy Verlanic, Class of 2015. He explained that the hospital had a pharmacy, X-ray room, triage desk, long-term care ward, rehabilitation unit, emergency room and was essentially functioning as an urgent care center.

“My focus was in urgent care where most patients were seen. The patients I saw ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s,” he said.

One of the many things different about Burning Man patients from patients he had previously experienced in urban clinical settings was their willingness to let a medical student take charge of their care from beginning to end.

“I loved the amount of autonomy students were given. We received a large amount of trust and got to see patients on our own, which was very reinforcing and built self-confidence,” said Verlanic.

Josh Gabel, who attended Burning Man two years ago as a second-year student, echoed his classmate: “We had much more clinical responsibility this time.”

Gabel said he was struck by the severity of cases he saw and the toughness of his patients, recalling one woman who came in for treatment of an 8-inch laceration on her head and was seen immediately back out on the playa dancing following treatment.

Gabel said the festival reminds him of his military service where there is essentially a captive audience in a hostile environment with limited resources and he is part of a small cadre of professionals charged with their medical care.

“This is as close to third world training as we will get, but it is an incredible and very exciting experience and we are very fortunate to be able to train here so close to home.”

For Alex Gill, who wants to go into emergency medicine, providing medical care at Burning Man was the “best experience someone in my field can get.”

“We are the only resource for those who are sick and must make do with what we have in the medical tent,” he said, explaining that albuterol, for example, was rationed to those who were truly in respiratory distress from inhaling playa dust.

Gill said it was a challenge being without all the normal resources available to practicing physicians in an urban setting.

“It was back to the basics of medicine, with patient histories and hands-on physical exams. We got to make our own decisions: if a patient was beyond the capability of our resources to treat, we called in a helicopter to transport them to Reno.”

Many of Gill’s patients, often from countries as far away as Israel and Germany, were very appreciative of his medical skills and care.

“Since Burning Man works on a gift economy, my skills and years of medical training are my gift to these patients.”

Gary Johnson, M.D., associate professor of family medicine in Reno who has been a festival participant for more than 20 years, has worked the festival in the capacity of physician for the last four years.

He said medical students receive elective course credit for their time providing care in three 12-hour shifts, all under the supervision of adjunct faculty.

Dale Carrison, D.O., chair of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine, accepted a check in the amount of $30,000 from Pasquale Rotella, chief executive officer of Insomniac, the company that produces the annual Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas last fall.

Insomniac donated this gift to the Emergency Medicine Resident Fund, in order to continue giving emergency medicine residents a valuable learning experience with the opportunity to provide care at a mass event such as the Electric Daisy Carnival.

The Emergency Medicine Resident Fund is an established gift fund used to support resident research activities within the School of Medicine’s emergency medicine department. Physicians that planned and directed the care for the Electric Daisy Carnival are local physicians who are involved in teaching and training emergency medicine residents for the School of Medicine.

Carrison also serves as medical director for the Electric Daisy Carnival and spent the duration of the festival in a motor home loaded with medical equipment, providing health care to festival participants.