Paramedic Training Program Finds Home in Clarksburg, West Virginia

Paramedic Training Program Finds Home in Clarksburg, West Virginia

CLARKSBURG — The next generation of paramedics responding to medical emergencies in North Central West Virginia are being trained in Clarksburg. Pierpont Community & Technical College’s emergency medical services program relocated from its Fairmont campus to the second floor of the Gaston Caperton Center on West Main Street for the fall semester. Pierpont is one of five institutions in the state to offer paramedic training, program coordinator Ben Tacy said.
 
One reason for the move to Clarksburg was to be more centrally located. They primarily service 13 counties and some students come from as far away as Parkersburg, Tacy said. There is a need for certified paramedics in every part of the country, and the profession is only expected to grow, Tacy said.
 
“We have 100 percent job placement, and if we doubled enrollment, we’d still have 100 percent placement,” he said.
 
The prerequisites for the paramedic program are a high school diploma and having earned an EMT certification. Pierpont’s program starts in January and takes almost one year, with the classwork divided into spring, summer and fall semesters. There are 28 students enrolled this semester.
 
Enrollment is open until Oct. 31 for the both emergency medical technician and paramedic certification programs that start in January. Ambulance crews employ both EMTs and paramedics, though paramedics make more money and are more highly trained, Tacy said. An EMT can staff a basic life support ambulance, perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator, but they cannot administer medication. A paramedic can staff an advanced life support ambulance and is trained to administer medications and perform a wide variety of life-saving interventions, Tacy said.
 
The skills paramedics learn overlap with skills that nurses have, but the job itself is very different. Emergency room nurses are highly trained, but can always defer to a doctor or other professional.
 
“There is an immense amount of critical thinking since you are on your own out in the field. It’s not mundane at all. Every day is different,” Tacy said.
 
All students take the National Registry Paramedic Examination at the end of the program, which certifies them to work on an advanced life support ambulance in any state. Pierpont also offers an associate of applied science degree option that involves an additional semester of math and science classes. The associate degree is a good option for people who are interested in becoming a flight paramedic or working in management at an ambulance agency, Tacy said.
 
One of the classes being taught this fall is assessment based management, instructor Rusty Taylor said.
 
Students are divided into small teams that run through medical emergency scenarios designed by fellow classmates. The simulations include assessing the patient, getting them on a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance. The program has an ambulance simulator in a classroom of the Caperton Center made from the interior of a real ambulance, Taylor said. One student plays the role of the patient, while other students observe the ambulance crew to give them peer reviews on how they handled the simulated call, he said. In a recent class, a three-person ambulance crew, led by student Alex Chandler, responded to a call for an unresponsive female patient in her apartment.
 
The students quickly determined that the patient had hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and also confirmed that she was an IV drug user. They administered medication to correct the blood sugar level after getting her onto the ambulance. Medical crews encounter diabetic emergencies multiple times per week, Taylor told the class. Paramedics have the ability to administer medication not only in the back of the ambulance, but anywhere they are responding to an emergency, he said.
 
“That’s one of the best things about para-medicine. We are mobile from point A to point B,” he said.
 
The program offers two different schedules for the classes: Two nights a week or an eight-hour day every Friday.
 
Many of the students are working as EMTs or are working other jobs to support their families, so the instructors try to tailor the program to their limited availability, Tacy said.
 
“We have every definition of non-traditional students, male, female, young, old, experienced, inexperienced, some starting a new career and some starting a second career,” he said.
 
Students spend about eight hours per week in class, eight hours doing work at home and they also do more than 400 clinical hours in hospitals and on board ambulances.
 
Student Tanner Dalton, who works as a firefighter for the Morgantown Fire Department and as an EMT for Monongalia EMS, said he first started to research the profession after getting curious about the paramedics who staff medical transport helicopters.
 
“I used to have a desk job, but I hated it,” Dalton said.
 
He said he looks forward to using his training in Morgantown and is interested in becoming a flight paramedic, which requires additional training.
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