If there was one thing that Emma Hand was certain of coming out of high school, it was that she wanted no part of running cross country or track and field in college.
After suffering through shin splints, and the stress and anxiety that come with running, Hand simply wanted to go to college and focus on her studies in emergency medical care. That was until former Western Carolina University cross country/track and field coach Danny Williamson convinced to her join his team in Cullowhee.
Her decision to attend WCU led to competing on the cross country and track and field teams during her freshman and sophomore years before focusing solely on the EMC program during her final two years. Following graduation, the Honors College student will begin her dream of attending medical school at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine – Carolinas in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“I’m really glad I came,” Hand said. “My time on the cross country team was amazing. The EMC program has been amazing. I feel like I couldn’t have gotten this great of an experience at another school. Western makes you feel welcomed and supported. It’s been a great four years.”
Free time has come at a premium for Hand, who is from Concord. During the summer before her freshman year, she received a letter inviting her to participate in Catamount Gap, an Honors College learning community that would give her the opportunity to earn Honors College credits.
“I remember tossing it aside and being like, ‘No, I’m definitely not going to spend my summer at school when I’m going to be starting there in the fall. I want to use the summer to say goodbye to all of my high school friends,’ ” Hand said.
However, her parents found the letter and convinced her it would be a good idea to participate. Once again, it was a decision Hand would come to enjoy as she met new friends, while picking up seven credits along the way.
Hand studied abroad during the summer of 2017, traveling to Argentina to participate in the medical Spanish program. Hand learned the basic terminology in Spanish, shadowed at a hospital and learned about the health care system in Argentina. Her final project was to write about the differences between the health care systems of Argentina and the U.S.
“It was really pretty interesting how different they were,” Hand said. “Being immersed in a different culture for a month was invaluable.”
Last summer, Hand took part in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at WCU where she researched how not having cell phone access in a rural location would affect patient related to heart attacks and cardiac arrest.
“It turned out to be a really successful topic,” she said. “We didn’t get as much data as we hoped, so the results weren’t very comprehensive, but the project itself was a hot subject to talk about.”
Hand presented her research at the EMS World Expo, which is a national conference, as well as the Southern Conference Undergraduate Research Forum and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
“When I first came to school, I didn’t think I was going to be interested in research,” Hand said. “I didn’t think that was my thing. Doing the project last summer made me realize it’s actually interesting to me. I like doing projects like this and coming up with results that mean something. It makes me want to continue on doing research in medical school.”