What They Don t Teach You in Paramedic School

Becoming a paramedic requires learning a tremendous amount of complex medical information to enable you to take care of sick and injured patients in the back of an ambulance, in a home or on the streets. The course is usually divided between didactic (classroom) and practical (clinical) coursework and field internships (ambulance ride-alongs) that are designed to prepare the student to deliver prehospital emergency care at an advanced level.

Although programs have evolved into 1,000-hour courses, there isn t always time to cover everything a student must know to provide a comprehensive level of care. Plus, in some cases, students are recent high school graduates with limited life experience that could help them prepare for a career in EMS. Students with more knowledge need to be shown the best way to effectively apply their experiences.

Here are a few observations about the current paramedic educational system and some suggestions to consider for future curriculum development.

In paramedic school they don t (always) teach you …

A more complete history of EMS: EMS didn t just start in the 1960s or, as many believe, after the TV show Emergency! aired in 1971. Many programs and activities have occurred that led to current day EMS systems. For example, much of modern EMS has been influenced by military innovations that resulted from the several armed conflicts during the 20th century. Students should also learn about recent history and know the sacrifices and efforts that were necessary to develop today s sophisticated systems and training courses. Every EMT and paramedic student should see the DVD set The History of Modern EMS: Making a Difference 2.0 (available through 800/545/2522) to help them better understand in whose footsteps they will be following.

Compassion & caring:
In an effort to train people as highly qualified medical professionals, teaching them how to interact and deal with patients is often over looked. In a highly stressful situation, such as a pediatric cardiac arrest or a multiple fatality accident, many paramedics will go into an autopilot mode and ignore other people and their surroundings in order to focus on the high level of care they must provide. Although focus is important, a confident paramedic is equally important. Paramedics should develop their skills so they don t always need blinders and can be more aware of their surroundings seeing how their patients, family members and the public are affected by their actions. Are they as compassionate toward a patient who exaggerates a minor injury or illness as they are with the critically injured? Some paramedics develop these skills after being on the other end of EMS as a patient themselves or as a family member of a patient. However, a classroom emphasis on the importance of these traits can aid in the development of a long-term successful EMS provider.

Common sense:
Students are taught how to perform patient assessments, often with a number of electronic devices. What happens when a diagnostic piece of equipment breaks during the call or if nothing they do seems to help the patient? Do they get frustrated, or do they have the ability to figure out what to do next? If the ambulance catches on fire with a patient on board, what should the provider do? In addition to medical training, students must how to make quick adjustments in their care. Case studies and scenarios can challenge their care of serious and not-so-serious patients when things don t go according to plan before it happens in reality.

Manners & respect:
Picture an EMS crew coming to pick up your mother to take her to the hospital. How would you react if they addressed her not by her name but by calling her honey or sweetheart during the call? It s important that from day one, students learn proper manners and how to show respect for patients. They must also understand that these guidelines apply to their interactions with instructors and supervisors. Should you test them on those principles? Absolutely! The goal will be for them to show by their actions that they ve made a commitment to a higher standard of respect than is common in our society.

A passion for life-long learning:
Finishing paramedic school is only the start of the ongoing education and training needed by students who become paramedics. Many may be surprised by the amount and level of continuing education needed to stay up to date. Students should be aware of the programs needed to maintain their certification or licensure, and instructors should instill in them a desire to obtain more than just the minimum number of credits. Encourage them to further their education. Support those you think would be good educators to give back to EMS training programs more than what they learned in school.

Paramedic education should go beyond the National Standard or the Scope of Practice and incorporate the wisdom and character traits that will enhance each student and their experiences. Continue to challenge them to know the medical material, but don t let them miss the opportunity to take more than that away from their courses. As an instructor, show them the importance of these topics and pass on those lessons from your career that will make them more complete as they serve their communities.

*Author s note: This commentary does not imply that all paramedic programs fail to teach certain aspects of the items mentioned here. Rather, this article is designed to raise the awareness of paramedics and EMTs in their approach to patients and how educators can foster that awareness.

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