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Preparing Future Paramedics and EMTs for Real-world Challenges

As first responders, paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) must always be ready to jump into action. They must be knowledgeable, quick-thinking, logical, composed, compassionate, and, when the situation arises, innovative to ensure their patients get the best care possible. With each workday comes the possibility of new challenges. No two situations are the same, because no two patients are the same.

Recognizing the community’s need for highly skilled paramedics and EMTs, John Tyler Community College has developed an award-winning EMS program that goes beyond textbooks and lectures by integrating advanced simulation into the learning environment. Through Tyler’s program, students learn proper techniques and protocols; research current practices; develop optimal treatment plans; and discuss case studies. They also are encouraged to look for creative solutions to unexpected problems. Instruction is delivered through a conceptual approach, so memorization is not enough. Students must also learn how to rapidly evaluate a situation, reason through possible approaches, and decide the best steps for patient care.

The inclusion of state-of-the-art simulators adds rich layers to this learning experience. Students render patient care in the back of a simulated ambulance, and as it bumps along a virtual road, they are tasked with delivering life-saving care to their patient amidst distractions of sirens, engine noise and radio chatter. Using a microphone, their instructor, watching from an external monitor and controlling the movement of the simulator, gives voice to the patient, often providing limited information – mirroring what an EMS professional would face in a situation where a patient is incapacitated or frightened. Occasionally, the instructor adds an unexpected twist – a piece of needed equipment has failed. Now what? It’s up to the students to figure it out. The idea is to put these trainees under pressure; to test their knowledge and medical skills; to make them better observers; to encourage them to become adaptable; to help them learn from their mistakes in a safe environment; and to prepare them for what it’s really like in the field. This teaching approach is embraced by those working in emergency medical services. “We don't get anything good out of a training event when we pat ourselves on the back and talk about how great we did,” says Damian Coy, program representative for the Old Dominion EMS Alliance. “We need to train to failure and see the places where we need to improve.” Being able to think critically and act quickly are crucial skills that must be developed. Plus, students need to identify their breaking point, so they can learn to overcome overwhelming circumstances.

Tyler’s program also prepares students for the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians’ (NREMT) new testing criteria. To ensure students are ready for the rigors of the field, the NREMT recently implemented a portfolio of vital skills that students must master in order to obtain certifications. Simulation plays a major role in testing these competencies. Tyler’s commitment to providing students with cutting-edge simulation facilities and its forward-thinking approach to its EMS curriculum means that its students are prepared to meet the demands of the these new NREMT requirements. Tyler’s focus on training top-notch EMTs and paramedics was recognized this year with an award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Health and Safety. Given by the Old Dominion EMS Alliance, this award honored Tyler’s EMS program for its commitment to high quality education and community outreach efforts.

Although challenging and rigorous, students progressing through Tyler’s EMS program find the results to be rewarding. “This time, last year, I had no idea that I would be sitting in an ambulance working, doing something I absolutely love,” says Amanda Hilliard, Tyler paramedic student and EMT at Richmond Ambulance Authority. “From the classroom discussions and simulations to the field and clinical rotations, the JTCC EMS program helped prepare me for an amazing career.” Austin Mostoller, Tyler paramedic student and EMT at American Medical Response, says he discovered his passion for the EMS field through Tyler’s program. “For the first time, I felt like I was finally doing what I was meant to do,” he said. “Though difficult, I appreciated the process. I believe it's not just the difficulty of the Computer Adaptive Tests or the fast pace but the process itself that enabled me to pass my tests. I felt overwhelmed at times, but I always pressed forward, and I thank the program for giving me the tools to become successful.”

Through Tyler’s EMS program, students can earn credentials as EMT, Advanced EMT, Intermediate EMT, and Paramedic, which is an associate degree program. The college’s program is structured so that students may advance their knowledge base and stack their credentials, seamlessly moving from one level to the next. And, college credit can be obtained for current industry certifications, giving students who already hold a credential the opportunity to enter the program at different points and progress. Students complete internships during Tyler’s program, and many of the EMS agencies that offer those internships end up recruiting Tyler’s students. So, careers are available throughout a student’s educational journey, and the number of those available jobs is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, between 2014 and 2024, the job outlook for EMTs and paramedics is projected to grow 24 percent. Those with an interest in these careers will find opportunities in industrial medicine, hospitals, local ambulance services, fire departments, clinics, helicopter transports, military settings, schools and wilderness environments – just to name a few.

To learn more about careers in EMS, join John Tyler Community College for its Modern Makers Open House on November 3, 2016 from 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Tyler’s Chester Campus, located at 13101 Jefferson Davis Highway. During Modern Makers, attendees will have the opportunity to see the EMS simulators in action; will be able to talk to Tyler faculty and staff about EMS training; and more. There is no charge to attend.

Article byHolly W. Walker, John Tyler Community College