Los Angeles Jewish News

Hollywood Hopeful Medic Joins Ambulance Team in Tel Aviv

By Adam Ross

TEL AVIV — Avital Gravanis (19) from Sherman Oaks, California has joined a team of Israeli paramedics in Tel Aviv.

The former YULA Girls High School student is one of 90 participants of the Israel XP program at Bar-Ilan University taking academic courses at the university's Ramat Gan campus alongside Jewish study seminars and regular trips around the country.

Every student is required to fulfill some kind of volunteering role throughout the year. Avital, who has her sights set on a career as a Physician's Assistant, completed a 60 hour course over four months as preparation to join an ambulance team.

She said: "I learned basic First Aid training with a lot of practical work, and focus on understanding the human body and how to care for it in time of distress. It was not an easy course, and I found it vary challenging, however being with friends - we all helped each other to succeed and complete the course."

Ramat Gan Ambulances

Ambulances at the Ramat Gan MDA station where Avital volunteers.

The Magen David Adom, (Red Star of David) MDA, is Israel's national emergency medical disaster, ambulance and blood bank service. It operates 119 stations over the country, with a fleet of over 700 ambulances nationwide. Although MDA currently staffs approximately 1,200 emergency medical technicians. paramedics and emergency physicians, it still relies heavily on over 10,000 volunteers who serve in both operational and administrative capacities.

Dr. Eli Jaffe, Director of MDA Marketing, Volunteers, Training and Fundraising explained: This is the first time that Magen David Adom has opened its volunteering program to GAP year students at Bar-Ilan University. The program not only gives participants a sense of what it is like to work in the medical field, but also immerses them within Israeli culture and society and shows them the efforts Israel makes to save a life."

On arriving at the station in Ramat Gan, Avital awaits an intercom to give the call for which ambulance is needed. Each team has a driver, one to two volunteers, and a paramedic. A shift is eight hours long with usually three to four calls each shift, taking around one to two hours each.

In her first week of work, Avital had already been presented with a range of different situations to deal with including a baby experiencing repetitive seizures and a drug overdose case. "I was told that the case with the baby was very rare, and on every shift there are new situations and challenges and you are always learning. I love that aspect of the work.

"There is a great camaraderie in the ambulance. Everyone was eager to help me get the hang of things and encourage me, especially on my first shift when I was very new to everything.

She added: "To be able to give back to my country by helping the people around me here is a noble feeling. Most people we help notice that I'm from abroad - my accent might give it away. They think it is awesome that I volunteer and try to give back to the country."

Next year Avital will be studying pre-med at Touro College in Manhattan, New York. "I think this experience will be tremendously beneficial. It has already made me more confident in pursuing a job in the medical field."

She will carry over a year of undergraduate credits she has earned at Bar-Ilan in courses including Judaic studies, Biology, and Marketing and Business. "I have loved my year in Israel. The program has been great, and I love the different trips we went on. I really feel I've experienced so many different places in Israel."

Outgoing Program Director, Rabbi Tully Bryks said: "Israel XP students choose from a wide range of Internship and volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Avital is a sensitive and caring student. As such, it was no surprise to me that she chose to dedicate her time to helping others and learning to save lives. It is a great opportunity to give back during her year in Israel."

(Reprinted by permission of Los Angeles Jewish News. Original article appeared on page 15 in the August edition's National Jewish News section.)

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