The volunteers for the student-run ambulance service, GERMS, pose together in front of Healy Hall in the fall.
Category: Student Experience

Title: Student-Run Ambulance Service Celebrates 40 Years of Caring for Fellow Students

In 1983, a group of undergraduates started a medical ambulance service for fellow students on foot. Forty years later, the group has grown into one of the largest student-run ambulance services among colleges and universities in the U.S. 

Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service, or GERMS as it is affectionately called, provides free, around-the-clock emergency services to the campus and surrounding Georgetown neighborhoods of Burleith and Foxhall. GERMS is run entirely by undergraduates. And this year, its members and alumni marked their 40-year anniversary as a club that’s now intergenerational. 

“We have legacy members whose parents were once part of GERMS,” said Abby Hames (C’24), vice president of operations for GERMS.

The service has not only cared for the Georgetown community but cultivated its own, all the while preparing many of its members’ for future careers in health and medicine. 

Answering The Call on Campus

A black-and-white photo of student medical volunteers transporting a student on a stretcher on Georgetown's campus in 1984.
GERMS volunteers assist a student in 1984.

GERMS began when a group of undergraduates wanted to fill the need for more robust emergency services after a series of tragic accidents on campus. 

Starting in the 1970s, Georgetown students started to speak out against what they perceived as inadequate responses from DC emergency services. 

Former Georgetown medical student Bob Doherty (C’83, M’87) is credited with founding GERMS at this time.

“We started it [GERMS] as a means to provide some sort of emergency care on campus,” he said in a Jan. 31, 1992, edition of The Hoya. “We knew that young people could provide that type of care.” 


Doherty credits the connections he made with members of the School of Medicine’s Emergency Medicine Department with getting the organization off the ground. In 1982, the faculty physicians helped the initial 34 members of GERMS who passed their EMT test develop protocols, write training materials, and, crucially, trade in their golf carts for their first ambulance, a converted hearse.  

In August 1983, GERMS members answered their first official emergency dispatch from a person who was suffering from chest discomfort and pain. By March of 1984, all emergency calls on campus were routed to GERMS instead of to DC emergency services, as they formerly were. 

A few years later, in 1987, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, then dean of Student Affairs, presented GERMS with an Outstanding Student Activity Award and worked to secure the organization additional funding, including subsidized housing to continue their work over the summer. In April 1990, he was named an honorary member of GERMS.


Three student volunteers for Georgetown's student-run ambulance service smile together.
GERMS’ student volunteers Maureen Schwarz (H’26), Beatrice Trad (H‘25) and Manya Reddy (C’26).

Since its founding days, GERMS has grown to 60-70 student members who are all nationally certified emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They run a 24/7 service for most weeks of the year, even continuing their work over the summer, receiving free housing from the university.

GERMS’ student volunteers operate two ambulances, the oldest of which has been out on more than 3,000 service calls. 

Although many students studying nursing or interested in medical school join GERMS to gain clinical experience, its volunteers represent nearly every undergraduate school. Students studying humanities, business or law also seek to become new inductees, or GERMS “probies” as they’re called. 

Gates Richards (C’95), associate director National Outdoor Leadership School’s Wilderness Medicine, was an English major in the College of Arts & Sciences who found GERMS influenced his career.  

“My GERMS days were the foundation of my professional career, and I’m thankful for those who went before and those who have kept it alive!” Richards said. 

“My GERMS days were the foundation of my professional career, and I’m thankful for those who went before and those who have kept it alive!” 

Gates Richards (C’95)

Student volunteers also receive mentorship and training from faculty physicians in the Department of Emergency Medicine, who serve as the organization’s medical directors and provide quality assurance for the care provided. 

“Many GERMS members have gone on to medical school or other health-related careers, including continuing their education at Georgetown,” said Dr. Jose V. Nable, associate professor of emergency medicine and medical director for GERMS. “In fact, the clinical chair for emergency medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Kerri Layman (SFS’00, M’06), is an alum of GERMS.”

Teaching a Generation of EMTs

In addition to receiving on-the-job training, GERMS also offers medical training of its own to Georgetown students and the wider community. Student volunteers teach EMT courses on emergency medical skills, including CPR and bleeding control. 

“Our EMT courses follow all the health guidelines set by the DC Department of Health,” said Tharun Polturi (C’25), president of GERMS. “We are occasionally even audited by DC where officials come and watch us teach our class to make sure we are following protocols.”

Graduates of GERMS classes have gone on to work as EMTs, nurses, firefighters and doctors across the country. 

As a largely self-funded organization, GERMS’ income from the EMT classes help the organization continue to provide their work free of charge. They also offer stand-by support for events like sporting events, concerts and graduations, including being on standby for the presidential inaugurations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama and when DC hosted World Cup games in 1994.

“We Want People To Feel Comfortable Calling Us” 

Three student volunteers for Georgetown's student-run ambulance service smile together.
GERMS’ student volunteers Charlotte Rowley (C’24), Payton Parris (C’24), and Alice Currie (H’26).

GERMS responds annually to hundreds of emergency calls, ranging from minor injuries to motor vehicle accidents. The team members receive dispatches from the Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD) and work with campus police and the Metropolitan Police Department to answer calls.

In addition to answering dispatches from GUPD, GERMS uses its ambulances for helipad transport for MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, a service the organization has provided for decades. 

GERMS typically receives 750-1,000 calls annually — mostly over the weekend between midnight and 6 a.m. Students answer calls of all natures from their peers. 

“We try to care for the entire person on every call and in our training we focus on being sensitive to a variety of factors we may encounter such as someone’s mental health and socioeconomic background,” said Dua Mobin (C’25), vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for GERMS.

The organization has built a trustworthiness with fellow students, who can call GERMS at their most vulnerable, said Lauren Aslami (C’24), the organization’s captain. The trust has been earned through decades of treating people with dignity and respect, she said. GERMS operates with a medical amnesty policy that prevents students from being subject to a disciplinary action if they call GERMS concerned for their health or the health of another student. 

“We want people to feel comfortable calling us,” said Sabreen Mohammed, (H’24), vice president of staff for GERMS. 

All in a Shift’s Work 

To meet the demand for their services, GERMS members are required to be on call for at least two 12-hour shifts a month at the organization’s headquarters and respond to emergencies as needed. 

There is a special bond that develops between students when working long shifts and answering emergency calls, says Gerard Baltaza (C’02), a former GERMS crew chief and now an attending surgeon with New York University Langone Health. 

“As a nerdy science guy, learning from, working alongside and socializing with other GERMS members helped me build self-confidence and develop skills for collaboration,” he said. 

In addition to being on call, GERMS members continually build their skillsets. They’re required to fulfill two educational review sessions every month, such as on how to distribute medication or how to administer CPR, and they teach the EMT course four times a semester. 

“You can make GERMS your whole life on campus,” said Mohammed, who estimates GERMS leadership spends an additional 10-20 hours per week working for the organization. “It really is like a part-time or full-time job,” she said. 

For many students, GERMS is its own community – one that’s stretched across generations and families. 

“When you ask a GERMS member what their favorite part of GERMS is, over 75% of people will tell you it’s the love of being on a crew and being in an office with other members,” said Mohammed. “The GERMS community is really special.” 

By Heather Wilpone-Welborn, GUMC Communications 

Editor’s Note: In the featured photo, the students are: (Back row) Jay Cole SFS’25, Sofia Wills SFS’24, Anna Landis C’27, Beatrice Trad H’25, Payton Parris C’24, Lauren Aslami C’24, Natalie Richter C’26, Nick Cohen H’25, Alice Currie H’26. Front Row: Simran Chaudhry C’25, Maureen Schwarz H’26, Sabreen Mohammed H’24, Charlotte Rowley C’24, Hannah Phillip H’26, Imana Adogu C’26, Lauren Whitlock H’25.