Mandy Thiede: Saving Lives Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Mandy Thiede, a student in the Radford University Carilion (RUC) emergency services program, has been saving lives since she was 15 years old, working as a lifeguard for Ocean Rescue in her hometown of Nags Head, North Carolina. However, it was an incident when she was off duty that made her feel like she could truly make a career out of her life-saving skills.

“One of my friends slipped on the rocks when we were at the James River in Richmond and was caught in the current,” Thiede recalled. “He hit his head, and I had to swim out and rescue him. I grabbed a child’s noodle float and used that so I could support him and got him to shore.”

The incident motivated Thiede to think about what she really wanted to do with her life. At that point, her work with Ocean Rescue was a job she had done for three consecutive summers while she was enrolled in a nursing program at a college in North Carolina.

“I realized that I would rather be in a short-term care situation with patients than caring for them long-term like a nurse would,” Thiede said. “So, I left the nursing program after my sophomore year and attended a local community college for a year and a half.”


Mandy Thiede

During that time, Thiede explored various career options that were more in line with her interests. She was a thrill seeker and enjoyed being physically challenged.

“Helping people and being in situations where you have to think fast is really appealing to me,” Thiede said. “After being a lifeguard with Ocean Rescue and helping my friend at the river, I decided to switch to emergency services as my career path. I enrolled in the RUC program because there is no other program like it near my home or in the state of Virginia.”

Thiede transferred to RUC and is now a sophomore in the program with plans to graduate in Fall 2022. She said that her instructors and classmates have all been great to learn with and the classes she’s had so far are exactly what she needs to prepare for her future.

“The EMT [emergency medical technician] lab lets us participate in cool simulations,” Thiede said, “and being part of those situations will help me prepare for the time when I will face them for real.”

Thiede is also taking a course that requires her to work at  a local fire station, going out on calls with EMTs and paramedics.   

“That is fun and exciting,” she said. “It’s getting that kind of real-world experience that makes this program so different. I appreciate the chance to learn as I am doing the work.”

That realistic and hands-on approach is at the heart of RUC’s emergency services program. Students have the opportunity to work with tools that allow them to experience emergencies in real-time, providing care, managing crises and rescuing those in need.

Among those tools is the ambulance simulator, a full-scale ambulance in the program’s lab. The simulator allows crews of students to learn to work together to assess and care for patients in fast-paced situations where seconds count. Faculty can even control a mannequin with a tablet from outside of the simulator to display symptoms that students have to identify and treat.   

This unique, interactive method of learning is taught by a faculty of practicing first responders, who often teach from experiences they have had in the field. This expertise provides RUC emergency services students with first-hand knowledge that can’t be found elsewhere.

Students also routinely have the opportunity to learn from professionals on the front lines in rotations with first responders at more than more than 20 fire and EMS agencies across the region. Those rotations include 700 hours of clinical and field time and the chance to work with more than 10,000 real patients.  

Thiede said that these kinds of opportunities were a big part of what drew her to the program. She feels like they can help her achieve her long-term goals of becoming a rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard and ultimately, a flight medic.

“Rescue swimmer is a designation given to rescue specialists in the Coast Guard,” Thiede said. “They give medical aid to persons in distress in the sea. I think what I’m learning in the emergency services program right now will help me do that well.”

Thiede said there is a Coast Guard base close to where she lives in the Outer Banks, and that is where she hopes to work during her six-year enlistment. Until then, she will continue to absorb knowledge from her professors and enjoy the experiences she is having in the program while preparing for her future.

Dec 22, 2020
Mark Lambert