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Marathon Medical Volunteers Receive Novel Training

October 6, 2011 | by Marla Paul

CHICAGO --- The estimated 1,300 medical volunteers on the front lines of emergency care for runners in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Sunday will be the best trained and prepared of any in the World Marathon Majors. The volunteers are being trained with the first ever on-line educational program that alerts them to the unique types of medical problems -- different from those encountered in day-to-day clinical practice -- marathon runners experience along with instructions on how to treat those problems.

The program, developed through the Simulation Technology and Immersive Learning Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, helps ensure the physicians, nurses, emergency medical technicians, medical students and other health professionals on the medical volunteer team are prepared to assist runners.    

George Chiampas, D.O., medical director of the marathon, assistant professor in emergency medicine at Feinberg and an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, developed the program with Lanty O’Connor, marathon director of medical education and manager of simulation technologies at the simulation center.

“Our marathon participants this year will benefit from even more well-trained medical volunteers to ensure a safe environment on race day,” Chiampas said. 

“The medical conditions encountered during the marathon can be quite different from those the volunteers were used to seeing in their day-to-day clinical care,” O’Connor said. “This prepares them for what they will encounter.”

About 60 percent of the runners who receive medical attention suffer from exercise-associated collapse, Chiampas said. Immediately following a long run, athletes can feel lightheaded and weak in the legs as the body readjusts, and blood flow to the heart is briefly interrupted. The affected runner needs to rest and elevate the legs. Other marathon-related health issues are hyperthermia, a dangerously high body temperature, which is treated with an ice bath, and hyponatremia, a serious sodium shortage in the body as a result of drinking too much fluid. Hyponatremia is treated with a high- sodium saline solution.  

The educational program is a Flash-based PowerPoint program equipped with voiceover narration and interactive graphics that educates healthcare providers on common patient presentations and effective treatments in a marathon setting. Medical volunteers were e-mailed the presentation, which includes a quiz that must be passed to ensure comprehension. 

The training was also designed to get volunteers thinking about the teamwork needed for smooth operations. “The goal is to bring together care providers who do not normally work together and iron out issues like who leads and who handles what,” Chiampas explained. “Communication is very important.”

The training program is available at:



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