Pierpont EMS program prepares EMTs, paramedics using real-life scenarios and simulations

Pierpont EMS program prepares EMTs, paramedics using real-life scenarios and simulations

Pierpont EMS program prepares EMTs, paramedics using real-life scenarios and simulations
 
FAIRMONT — When medical problems arise and accidents happen, you call 911. You rely on the EMTs, paramedics and other first responders to help you, and to help make you or your loved ones better again.
 
But it’s a long road of training, education and practice for these emergency responders to get to this point, to possess all the knowledge necessary to provide the essential care and medical attention people need.
 
Pierpont Community & Technical College has been providing this training for first responders for many years, educating students not only in the classroom, but also out in the real world, and with simulated scenarios that prepare them for their future jobs.
 
Training and education
 
The paramedic program has been ongoing since 1996, initially starting under Fairmont State, though it is now run by Pierpont, according to Ben Tacy, Pierpont EMS program coordinator.
 
Tacy himself started in EMS as a volunteer firefighter. After being hired as a career firefighter, he advanced his education to
 
become a paramedic. Before being named the EMS program coordinator, he worked as an adjunct instructor with the program.
 
In addition to Tacy, who works with the program full-time, Rusty Taylor also works full-time as the assistant professor of EMS.
 
“We were in it and in the field working, and then became educators after the fact,” Tacy said. The program also utilizes four adjunct instructors who were also trained first as emergency responders. The Pierpont EMS program trains students to become EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and paramedics, two similar jobs with different levels of training and ability.
 
“An EMT essentially is to do patient assessment and quick patient stabilization to help manage airways, conduct CPR, use AEDs and give a handful of medications to treat acute respiratory disorders, chest pain disorders, diabetic issues and overdoses,” Tacy said. “A paramedic does advanced life support. We do very significant interventions. … When it comes to life-saving interventions we have a very high scope of practice.”
 
To become an EMT requires taking a 150-hour class, generally lasting one semester, Tacy said. The paramedic class is 12 months long, and Tacy said that between classroom time, clinicals and homework, students will typically undergo 1,500-2,000 hours of education.
 
Paramedic students, who must be an EMT first, can complete the paramedic class on its own for their certification, or can earn an associate’s degree by taking general education classes as well.
 
Tacy described the paramedic program as a “flipped classroom;” the basic materials and lectures are done by students online. When they meet in a classroom — either over four hours each on Monday and Wednesday evenings or eight hours on Fridays — they are going through scenarios and simulations to train with hands-on experiences.
 
“They come in and they really run simulated calls every single day. Anything from somebody with a stubbed toe to a child in cardiac arrest,” Tacy said. “Anything they would encounter in the field we cover in class.”
 
Courses include everything from introductory to rescue, to emergency vehicle driving. “Outside of class while they’re doing clinicals, they actually will function within the scope of practice of a paramedic under the supervision of a paramedic preceptor.”
 
Students of the paramedic program will do a minimum of 400 hours in clinical work, he said, training in emergency rooms, ICUs, operating rooms, at pediatric clinics and on an ambulance.
 
“Our theory is once you graduate, you should be able to hit the ground running,” Tacy said.
 
Recreating reality
 
Students in the Pierpont EMS pre-hospital trauma life support class were on the scene of a simulated accident last Sunday. A burn victim — portrayed by a volunteer actor who was “moulaged” to make it appear he was actually badly burned — was lying on the ground. In this scenario, something had blown up, the man was burned, and his airway was singed and starting to swell, meaning the students needed to intubate quickly.
 
“You do not have a pulse,” the instructor added. “What do you do?”
 
The paramedics-in-training got to work on helping the victim, talking through their actions as the instructor looked on. This was only one simulation of six that the students would go through during their training that day at Three Rivers Iron and Metal. Other scenarios included a gunshot wound, a mountain bike accident, patients pinned under a truck and a tractor-trailer accident. They were scattered throughout the grounds of the business, which Tacy said is very supportive of the program. He said Three Rivers Iron and Metal Manager Barry Bledsoe is generous in helping set up scrapped vehicles to simulate accidents, allowing students to imagine a realistic experience.
 
After treating the patients at each scene — providing attention to the actor where feasible, and otherwise using mannequin heads and arms for intubation and IV insertion — the students wrapped up by discussing what went right and what went wrong with their instructors.
 
Jordan Hayes, a first-year instructor with the Pierpont EMS program, was on site Sunday, watching and directing the students as they dealt with the simulations in the program that he himself went through eight years ago.
 
After graduating the program and becoming a paramedic, he said he’s come back to the program to help with the class, eventually becoming a paid instructor. He is also a paramedic with Valley Medical Transport and a volunteer paramedic in Mineral County.
 
“I’ve worked all over the state; this is the best paramedic program that I’ve seen produce the best paramedics,” Hayes said. “I think the management is one of the best things that we have. They’re very real people. … They take no grief. It’s very matter of fact; they need to do this, because once they leave here, and they go out into the real world, that’s very matter of fact more. It’s lives in their hands.”
 
Hayes pointed out that while the training and practice is important, it’s better for them to make mistakes now so that they can learn from them and not repeat those mistakes in the real world.
 
“Whenever we’re stopping them and redirecting their attention to something that’s a mistake, they’re not going to forget that when they see this person truly out in the field.”
 
Shawna Miller, in her first semester with the EMS program, was one of the students responding to the scenarios. She’s already an EMT, but in the rural area in which she lives, she said there’s only one paramedic who is about ready to retire covering a large portion of the county. So, she is going through the program to become a paramedic herself.
 
“Beyond that, I hate the feeling of being an EMT on the truck and not being able to do what we need for the patient when we don’t have a paramedic,” Miller said.
 
As she went from scenario to scenario Sunday, she said each simulation made her feel like she was responding to actual accidents. She added that the EMS program has been great.
 
“I’ve gained a lot more confidence,” she said. “It’s been really informative and the instructors are amazing and teach us a lot of stuff.”
 
Working as a paid firefighter for the City of Bridgeport, Justin George said he is enrolled in the EMS program to further his education for his career. Everyone that works for that fire department is dual-certified as a firefighter-EMT or a firefighter-paramedic, so he is completing his training as a paramedic.
 
Beyond the classroom
 
There are currently 31 students in the Pierpont EMS paramedic program, coming from local counties as well as those farther away, including Braxton, Taylor and Wood counties, Tacy said. Many who enter the program are already in the workforce, often working as EMTs who now want to further their education. The average of students is 24, he said.
 
The career outlook for paramedics is great, he said.
 
“Employment of EMTs and paramedics is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations,” states the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. “We have 100 percent job placement and could probably double our enrollment and still have 100 percent job placement,” Tacy said. “There’s a global shortage on paramedics.”
 
He pointed out that as the population grows and ages, the amount of people needing assistance increases, also increasing emergency call volumes and staffing needs. Also, he said that as there are more medical facilities that specialize in different medical fields, there’s an increased need to transport patients from hospital to hospital.
 
He added that nationally, there’s a new role coming about known as a community paramedic, who does home health care, checking in and following up on patients once they are discharged.
 
“After paramedic, you can go on to get higher certifications to take care of very, very, very ill people,” Tacy said. “In West Virginia, there’s a certification called a C3IFT, for (Class 3) Interfacility Transports. That’s taking patients that can be transported with blood, antibiotics, multiple pumps, on ventilators.”
 
Tacy said the EMS program is good for those who truly want to help people, and are ambitious and have a lot of self-drive, as the program is very difficult and requires a lot of dedication.
 
Working as an emergency responder is a stressful job, Tacy added, and he said that many can get burned out from extremely heavy workloads. He also said that he feels it is an underpaid profession, with an average starting salary for an entry-level paramedic in West Virginia of $39,000.
 
Beyond the initial education paramedics need, Tacy said once they are certified, every two years they also have to do a minimum of 72 hours of continuing education.
 
“Outside of your job and everything you have to still go and find time to do continuing education annually,” he said. “We also provide those continuing education hours.”
 
Last year, Tacy said Pierpont had contact with over 600 students for continuing education classes in addition to initial training.
 
But working as an emergency responder can be rewarding, he said, citing moments when EMTs and paramedics will respond to a medical call and know they really made a difference in someone’s life. “Every call you go has impact on someone’s potential outcome,” Tacy said.
 
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