"EMS manager, you have a call on line one," says the operator. "It's the local paramedic training program asking again about having their students do their clinical rotations with our service." If this were you, what would your response to this request be? It probably depends on the policy of your EMS agency, whether you may or may not allow students to ride along and observe or participate in clinical training. Often agencies that don't allow ride-alongs haven't considered all the facts and advantages of this opportunity.
Before you pick up the phone and answer the operator's question, look at both the positive and negative aspects of having students do their clinicals with your agency.
Let's start with the positive aspects (because I've found more of them).
Students who train with your agency experience real-life patient care under the supervision and guidance of a trained provider. Performing CPR on a patient and witnessing someone die are important aspects of developing and training EMS personnel. These experiences shape and develop the student better than classroom instruction does.
This is a mutually beneficial relationship. Rather than requesting another ambulance or help from another agency, these students can be an extra person to assist on calls. They're free help and can assist you in delivering EMS to your community. In exchange, they get the opportunity to learn.
It's good public relations practice to provide students with a training site. People who fund your agency can see you are committed to the community when you allow students to train with your personnel.
You can use the ride-along program to evaluate potential new employees. Students who are exceptional in their clinical rotations might be strongly considered after obtaining their certification. This is a great time to see if a student is a good fit for your organization.
You can also promote your organization to students during clinical rotations. Students can be potential employees. Agencies that struggle to get applicants can often "court" students they're interested in hiring after the students complete their training and receive certification.
Some training programs partner with the EMS agency to provide other training programs that the EMS agency may need on an annual basis. Some will provide a discount to students who attend training at the school.
In almost every case, having students ride with your agency strengthens your employees because they're seen as role models for future EMS personnel. Their active participation when showing students the right way to deliver patient care develops them into better professionals.
The employees who precept the students are usually given extra training that helps them work with the students. This training might also be beneficial for orienting new employees, because once you have a student ride-along program you have employees who are experienced in working with new members.
Students want to learn more about what they just observed. You need to be able to answer questions posed by those inquisitive students. Some members of your agency might consider having to explain medical and trauma conditions after going on calls a negative experience.
Although students have the fresh memory or learning about EMS, they don't have the practical application skills they need to always apply that knowledge appropriately. Your employees must be able to demonstrate their skills at more than a basic level.
Employees aren't usually as relaxed and comfortable with visitors, such as students, present. Working with students may cut into their TV or nap time.
Some employees may bring up a liability issue of having students perform skills. All schools are required to provide some liability insurance for students. Anyone concerned about this issue isn't taking into consideration that the student is only supposed to be performing procedures under the supervision of a licensed provider.
Some agencies don't want to bother their employees with having students present. In those agencies, management hasn't taken the time to emphasize the importance of the student ride-alongs and the benefits to the agency.
If all the EMS agencies in one area stopped providing student clinical-training options, then the only option for out-of-classroom learning would be virtual patient simulation. With these simulators, students won't actually touch real people. What a surprise these students would encounter when confronted with the sight and smells of actual patients. Not to mention the importance of the conversational interaction between the provider and the patient.
So, I have to ask this question, have you or anyone at your agency received their EMS certification -- especially as a paramedic -- without the benefit of attending clinical in-the-hospital and in-the-field training? How do you expect future paramedics to get their certifications if your agency doesn't provide that vital experience?
The next time your EMS organization is contacted about hosting student ride-alongs please encourage and promote having students come to your agency and help train them the right way.
If your agency is already training site, what are the positive reasons you have students riding on your ambulances? Please post your responses and perhaps your reasons may help convince another agency to participate.