HGH EMS Rolls Out High School EMT Course

Paramedic Ken Whittaker has a captive audience. All eyes are on him as he describes his first patient as an EMT—a tiny victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that he wishes he could forget.

"By the time we got there, the baby was already dead," he says, "but we did everything we could, not because we thought we could bring the baby back; we did it for the parents."

"That was my very first call out the door," adds Whittaker, maintaining close eye contact with his students. "I was one week on the job."

He continues, "There are a lot of emotional things that happen in this career, people leave this world prematurely. It's OK to ask questions and get information; that's your job right now, to prepare."

Whittaker's class is made up of 13 senior students from Lowry High School. The group meets several times a week in the training room at the Humboldt General Hospital Emergency Medical Services Rescue station where their ultimate goal will be to pass the National Registry EMT exam by summer 2013.

The collaborative program is a first for Humboldt General Hospital and the Humboldt County School District, but Superintendent Dave Jensen hopes it won't be the last.

"This class is a perfect fit with our Career and Technical Education component," said Dr. Jensen. "CTE is all about preparing students to contribute to the workplace upon their exit from high school, and this class certainly does that."

The students, who will log approximately 150 hours of education and training at HGH EMS Rescue through the end of the school year, will be required to successfully complete both a cognitive and a psychomotor exam.

Their licensure as an EMT in the State of Nevada will allow them to serve in the patient compartment of an ambulance. It will also allow them to use medical equipment such as automatic external defibrillators and deliver trauma care; they will be educated in a simple way regarding all injuries and diseases.

On the job, at this level of EMS training, the students will work in a team environment with more advanced providers such as advanced EMTS and paramedics.

The NREMT EMT-Basic/EMT cognitive exam is a two-hour computer adaptive test that covers the entire spectrum of EMS care including airway, ventilation, oxygenation, trauma, cardiology, medical operations and EMS operations.

The psychomotor examination will allow students to demonstrate competency in a wide range of emergency care skills such as patient assessment/management of a trauma patient, patient assessment/management of a medical patient, cardiac arrest management/AED, bag-valve-mask ventilation of an apneic patient, spinal immobilization (both seated and supine patient), long bone fracture immobilization, joint dislocation immobilization, traction splinting, bleeding control/shock management, upper airway adjuncts and suction, mouth-to-mouth ventilation with supplemental oxygen, and administering supplemental oxygen to a breathing patient.

"This class is not for the faint of heart, or the slight of study," quips Whittaker of the rigorous demands of achieving EMT status. "I think these students are finding out that they will have to work very hard for every level they achieve in the EMS system, including this first one."

For their part, the students admit the class may be more intensive than they had initially anticipated. But as student Michael Drake points out, "This course is not another simple show-up-and-leave-high-school course. The skills we are learning can mean the difference between life and death for a person someday down the road."

Student Jordan Mecham agrees. "It is definitely not an easy course," she says, "and you have to want to be here to succeed. It is completely worth it, though."

Tania Alcaraz says she really loves the hands-on aspect of the course. "It's really good that we get to apply what we learn in the books to our 'patients' in the class," she says.

Freddie Ziemer says he also enjoys the class's interactions with HGH's crew members. "One of my favorite parts about the class is when the teachers tell us stories about their calls," he says.

Sarah Palmer says she is headed toward a career in medicine, so "I chose to take this EMT course because it was a unique opportunity and it would give me some exposure to the field of medicine."

Others, including Erika Kirste, would also like to use their newfound skills following graduation. "After high school I plan on becoming an EMT," says Erika, "and someday I would like to attend nursing school. I chose to take this class because the medical field has always interested me and this is a great start for my future in the medical field!"

Dusty Hamilton, who aspires to be a flight paramedic one day, says he felt honored to take the course. "I would like to say that it's a great honor to be among the first EMT class through the school and I wish the rest of my class good luck so we can pave the way for all future classes."

Michael Drake agrees. "I am extremely happy to be chosen as one of the participants in this course. It is a great opportunity and allows for an experience unlike any that any high school student before us has undergone. We are lucky to be taught by one of the best EMS and rescue organizations in the country and it is truly a pleasure to be a part of this."

Whittaker says it has been an equal pleasure working with the students. "They are hard working, dedicated, responsible and quick to learn," he says. "Those qualities are essential in a good EMT and these young folks are definitely on their way toward an exciting career in emergency medical services."