Immigrant Physicians Become Paramedics

Immigrant Physicians Become Paramedics
The Canadian province of Alberta has taken a new approach to deal with its need for more paramedics: The non-profit Bredin Institute is partnering with the city of Edmonton to offer free paramedic training to immigrant physicians who aren’t actively working on their Canadian physician licensure. The 25-week program draws on the physicians’ previous training to drastically cut education time from the two years it normally takes to become an Alberta paramedic.

The International Medical Graduate to Paramedic Bridging Program got funding from federal, provincial and municipal grants totaling $700,000 over two years.

The first class began Feb. 9 with seven students, but Ann Campbell, the program’s liaison officer, expects 12-14 in subsequent classes. Physicians in the first course come from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Somalia and Columbia. Three more classes of 15 studentseach are scheduled over the next 18 months. There are also plans to expand the program to Alberta’s largest city, Calgary.

After 17 weeks in the classroom, participants will spend eight weeks in a monitored practicum. Then they’ll be eligible for hire with the Edmonton Fire Department or another Alberta EMS agency, where they’ll undergo 26 weeks of on-the-job training.

The program is not intended to dissuade immigrant physicians from becoming licensed to practice medicine in Canada, but it should allow physicians currently employed in non-medical fields usually in low-paying jobs to contribute as health-care practitioners.

A Thumbs Up for this win-win program that creates more paramedic staffing and allows foreign-trained physicians to continue practicing in health care.

When the Power Goes Off
People with home medical devices, such as ventilators, dialysis machines and oxygen concentrators, can be in big trouble if the power goes out. David Prezant, MD, chief medical officer for the Fire Department of New York, tracked 9-1-1 calls and emergency department visits at one hospital during the 2003 Northeast Blackout and found a surge in calls for EMS from patients with in-home medical devices. Now, he’s promoting registries of special-needs patients to ensure they get priority in power restoration.

A few jurisdictions have created such registries. In Western Pennsylvania, Allen Staggers, manager of corporate communications for Allegheny Energy says, “We ask customers to let us know if there are home medical devices in the house. That info becomes part of the account information.” When a power interruption occurs, the company tries to get energy restored to those customers right after it provides power for public safety and health providers. “Local emergency management centers can look at a password-protected Web site that shows outage areas with the priority customers in those areas. That’s been in place for several years,” Staggers says.

The Coconino County (Ariz.) Public Works Department has been promoting its special needs registry for about 18 months, asking people to self-report if they have home medical equipment. The addresses go on a GIS map so that emergency preparedness planners can access it, and the Flagstaff Fire Department will be notified of the locations of special-needs residents in the event of an outage. The county hasn’t yet used the registry, which currently includes only about 20 people. “It’s not a great success,” says county emergency planner Sherrie Collins, who’s concerned about keeping the registry “robust and up to date.”

North Dakota is putting the finishing touches on its statewide registry, which will identify special-needs people by ZIP code so they can be contacted when necessary by the CityWatch notification system. “Post-Katrina, there has been a push from the federal government to address special-needs populations,” says Cecily Fong, public information officer, North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. She says the registry gives no guarantees but does help her agency “better understand who’s out there and what their needs are.”

Thumbs Up to FDNY’s Prezant for bringing attention to this issue and to the handful of states and counties that have started such registries. What is your area doing to ensure electricity-dependent patients don’t die when the power goes out?

The EMS station within New York City’s Harlem Hospital Center recently had to pitch its entire narcotics supply after a state health inspector found the drug locker next to an aging radiator that kept the station as warm as 92 degrees! The 20 vials each of morphine, Valium, and midazolam were likely even hotter inside the locker. Above 86, medications can become less potent or have their chemical compositions altered, and possibly even become life-threatening. Lesson learned. JEMS

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