By Horace Holloman

ATLANTA — When residents across the state were advised to shelter in place and avoid close contact with others at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia State student Benjamin Horne found himself on the front lines of the global health crisis.

Horne, who graduates this spring with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, has worked as a full-time advanced emergency medical technician (EMT) with Grady EMS since 2017.

“I remember hearing about the first case of COVID-19 in Atlanta and thinking, ‘This is what we’ve trained for,’” said Horne, who is also an Honors College student. “A big part of our training is public health and responding to these larger health crises.”

Working as a full-time EMT and attending college during a public health emergency was challenging, Horne said. While on duty, his responsibilities include organizing medical supplies and being available for 911 calls to transport patients, as well as administering first aid or life support care for the seriously injured and ill.

During the height of the pandemic in Georgia, Horne said there was a surge in calls to help COVID-positive patients who needed to be transported to the hospital. He was suddenly juggling classes during the week and intense,13-hour EMT shifts Fridays through Sundays.

“I would be so tired from work and handling the increase in call volume that at times it took away my motivation for school,” Horne said.

Horne said support from the university Counseling Center, Grady and work colleagues helped him stay the course and make it to graduation. Some of his co-workers at Grady also took classes at Georgia State, and they banded together to form study groups to keep up with their classwork.

He also focused on the advice of his late father, Ollie, whom he’d grown up watching make countless trips from their home in rural Crawford County to Atlanta for neurosurgeries. Ollie died of brain cancer soon after Horne graduated high school. His message: Life is too short to not chase your dream.

Horne, who had helped train horses on a farm from the age of 12, had always thought he wanted to become a veterinarian. But what he learned from his father about the fleetingness of life made him rethink things.

“Seeing what my father went through ignited a passion in me to go into human medicine because I wanted to help people in the way doctors helped my dad,” he said.

Horne draws inspiration from his mother Cristi who, at 53, is pursuing a degree in aviation science to become a pilot, and his older brother Paul, who also decided to pursue higher education after their father’s passing.

While he’s doubted himself in the past, Horne said he’s happy he persevered.

“I wasn’t the best student in high school, but I’ve felt empowered to finish with a higher education degree and I’m happy I’ve taken positive steps to get to my dream of becoming a physician,” Horne said.

Horne feels that he has a solid foundation from classes like clinical neuroscience and medical neuroanatomy, as well as labs with Professor Kim Huhman.

“During the pandemic, the lab really fostered a sense of community,” Horne said. “I loved being in the lab and learning how drugs and human medicine can affect the brain. It’s really been a great experience to apply what I’m learning in real time at my job.”

After graduation, Horne plans to continue working full time as an EMT while making time to travel more and to study for the Medical College Admission Test.

Photo by Steven Thackston

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