McKenna Schindler

MSPA Student McKenna Schindler Brings Her Experience as a Fire Department EMT to the Table

McKenna Schindler, a student in Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) ‘s inaugural Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA) program, is now learning the fundamental skills in treating patients admitted to a hospital. But she got her start in the medical world in pre-hospital care, working as an EMT for a Delaware fire department for three years. 

“I started that job to gain clinical hours, and it became one of the most impactful experiences of my life,” Schindler said. “I learned so much, and the community at the firehouse is incredible. They call it a brotherhood for a reason.”

She worked on the busiest ambulance in the state, responding to emergencies alongside the firefighters. In addition to fires, they handled various trauma cases, including car accidents, shootings, and cardiac arrests.

One of the most valuable skills she learned as an EMT was time management, as she was working at the station while attending school as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware. After graduating, she worked full-time for a head and neck surgeon during the day while working for the fire department at night and on weekends.

Another essential skill she gained was thinking on her feet.

“Even if a call is presented in a certain way in the 911 dispatch, you have no idea what you’re walking into,” Schindler said. “So you need to be able to make snap decisions under pressure.”

One such moment came when Schindler had to deliver a baby when she had only been on the job a few weeks.

“My field training officer had assured me that we rarely have to perform a delivery on the job,” Schindler said. “I got to the scene, and you could already see the head. My partner was still downstairs.”

By the time he arrived, she had already fully delivered the baby. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the neck, and the baby wasn’t breathing.

Again, Schindler acted fast.

“I got the umbilical cord untangled, the airway back, and the breathing back,” Schindler said. “The baby was fine. That happened on Mother’s Day.”

Schindler believes that the ability to think quickly on her feet and remain calm under pressure will undoubtedly come in handy during her medical career, particularly if she ends up working in the ER or surgery.

Schindler found her co-workers to be very supportive.

“After a one-car accident where two family members had died, we all got help afterward and would continue to check up on each other,” Schindler said. “I remember people who weren’t even on that call—they had just seen that I was working—had reached out to me. That meant so much.”

Being effective as an EMT meant prioritizing mental health while simultaneously compartmentalizing when necessary.

“You must keep your cool on high-intensity calls,” Schindler said.

“It’s their emergency. It’s not your emergency. You have to be there 100% for that person. They don’t know you were on a pediatric trauma arrest earlier that day, and there’s no reason they should. It’s our job to treat every patient like our only patient.”

Interestingly, Schindler only sometimes planned to pursue a career in healthcare or science. However, as an undergraduate, she often heard her neuroscience major friend talk passionately about her classes. 

“I remember looking at her work with brain slices and MRIs, and I found it fascinating,” Schindler said. “She encouraged me to change my major to neuroscience. I didn’t think I was smart enough. But all it took was a leap of faith to make that switch, and I loved it.”

Now Schindler is excited to continue building upon everything she has learned as a neuroscience major and EMT as she completes her first year of KGI’s MSPA program. 

“The faculty is just incredible,” Schindler said. “They listen to all of us and value our opinions. And I feel like as the inaugural class, we’re also playing a part in shaping the program, which is special.”

One professor she has particularly enjoyed working with is Director of Didactic Education Amanda Ingalls.

“She’s just awesome,” Schindler said. “I love everything she’s brought to the table, and she’s done so much to foster my growth as a student and provider—probably more than she knows.”

She has also enjoyed working with MSPA Program Director, Professor of Practice Christy Eskes, Professors Lauren BoldaJason Laird, and Stacey McIlroy.

“All of them have different backgrounds and specialties,” Schindler said. “We’re so lucky to have this incredible variety of insight from such powerhouses in the profession.” 

Laird has a background in robotic surgery, Eskes in primary care—specifically within underserved communities, McIlroy in orthopedic surgery, and Bolda in urgent care and community projects. 

Given Schindler’s experience in emergency medicine, she is considering pursuing that field as a possible career. At the same time, though, she’s keeping her options open.

“Ever since the program started, I’ve realized just how limitless the options are,” Schindler said. “I could see neurosurgery as a specialty.”

She looks forward to clinical rotations, where she’ll dive deeper into some of these specialties. In the meantime, she continues to immerse herself in the MSPA program while making time for her hobbies.

One such hobby is figure skating. She was a competitive figure skater for 15 years.

“I moved here from the East Coast,” Schindler said. “I feel it’s important to keep your hobbies. It helps you feel grounded, especially when studying nonstop and in a new environment.”

Ingalls has high hopes for Schindler’s future.

“McKenna is exactly what the future of the PA profession is looking for,” Ingalls said. “She is dedicated, bright, and ambitious but maintains the humanistic part of her that will allow her to connect with her patients. She will make a big difference in the community she chooses to serve. As an educator, I often think about what place in medicine my students will find themselves – for McKenna, the sky is the limit. I feel pride knowing she will be one of the first in our community representing the KGI Physician Assistant Program.”