Reaching out through RAGBRAI

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Throughout most of the year, the University of Iowa Mobile Emergency Simulation Lab-a 42-foot Winnebago painted in black and gold-is used as an educational tool for Emergency Medical Services.

But for one week each July, it follows upwards of 10,000 bike riders across the state with RAGBRAI: The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

UI resident physicians Kimberly Hagarty, MD, and Jeff Brown, MD, volunteered for RAGBRAI 2016

Known simply as the Sim Bus, it is always staffed with at least one paramedic and two emergency medicine resident physicians. The team provides first aid and other medical services in the mid-point towns along the route, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day of the ride.

UI Health Care partners with CARE Ambulance and the RAGBRAI team from The Des Moines Register in addition to local health care providers in the communities along the route. The local health care resources, especially in the smaller communities, are stretched thin when that many visitors come through town. The partnership of these organizations helps alleviate that burden as well as provide education to the UI's emergency medicine resident physicians.

"The best part is getting to see the state of Iowa and all of the great things that Iowa has to offer," says Christopher Metsgar, director of the EMS Learning Resources Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics, adding that it's also a valuable learning opportunity for the residents and medical students who volunteer. "It lets our residents see rural medicine and really understand how different and unique rural medicine is from what they see in the academic setting," Metsgar says.

During the 2016 RAGBRAI, the Sim Bus team treated over 200 individuals, which included putting bandages on blisters, treating wounds that potentially needed stitches, and giving treatment to severely dehydrated riders. They also saw many participants who needed follow-up care each day-such as riders with wounds that needed a new dressing each day.

With the bus's high visibility profile, it's common for UI alumni and other groups to use the bus as their meeting point in each town.

"It really gets our name out there across the state," Metsgar says. "We do a lot of great things that help with changing medicine and changing lives here, and not everyone across the state is aware of that."

Mobile units such as the Mobile Emergency Simulation Lab count as community benefit because they are addressing a community need and providing health care in the community.