by Responders Unite
One day, you wake up and decide that you want to be an EMT. As a Basic life support provider, you are trained to take vital signs, properly extricate a patient, control c-spine immobilization, properly provide basic airway management, and splinting. Most of skills fall under basic first aid, controlling bleeding, bandaging and knowing signs and symptoms. Experience is key in any level of EMS, and truly learning how to treat a patient comes with time; linking meds to ailments, signs and symptoms to a condition, and knowing how to truly follow your gut all come with practice.
Some entering the filed already knew what this basic training will entail, others not so much. Many classes mainly teach EMTs how to pass the test, leaving the rest of our learning to be done in the field. The question is, at what point do you feel it is safe to further yourself and seek education out as a higher level provider?
People can argue forever about when is the right time to advance in this field. Truthfully, my opinion is to do it when you feel that you are ready. Being an EMT is a learning curve; no calls are ever textbook, each person is different, and it takes time to get used to walking into unknown situations. It took me 6 years to feel comfortable enough to sign up for paramedic school. Even then, I was still terrified. One week into classes, I realized quickly how much I did not know. I was confident in my BLS skills, but I didn’t realize how much being a paramedic entailed until my instructors began to teach.
Knowing what the higher level training entails may be of assistance in helping you decide when the right time is for you. My classes began with human systems, biology, pharmacology, and BLS review. Pharmacology was what put me in my place. I never realized how in depth making medication decisions could be, and understanding how many negative reactions there were sent my head spinning. Next semester wasn’t any better. Cardiology, pathophysiology, going through each ailment, how to treat it, and the effects of the ailment and treatment decisions being broken down to the molecular level was intimidating. On top of the medical knowledge, we were actively learning IV skills, intubations, needle decompressions, how to properly read EKGs, ACLS, and so much more. It all was very overwhelming. The didactic portion was only a small portal to the rest of what we needed to know. We realized quickly how much continuing education is important. Paramedic school was far more in depth than basic school ever was. I felt that they focused more on the knowledge than the skills, whereas BLS felt more like skills than knowledge.
Clinical time has been a huge learning curve as well. As I sit in the ER, I have an ever growing respect for our RNs. They have taught me lessons that were impossible to learn in a classroom, explaining to me in depth why a patient is presenting the way they were, and truly making me understand the treatments. Most of your skills are learned from Clinical time and ambulance ride time. My suggestion to you - pay close attention. Absorb every last bit of knowledge that you can. The time you spend in these settings is short. Ask questions and be proactive; you just may see a side of this job that you have never seen before. In fact, this experience makes you see the world of EMS much differently in general.
When making the decision to further yourself, just make sure you are ready for the big changes. Make sure your BLS skills are proficient, and that you are comfortable with your base of knowledge. Be prepared to be knocked off of your feet, and rebuilt. Be prepared to analyze a call in a different way. Do not forget where you came from. BLS skills are highlighted and emphasized in the classroom, in the hospital setting, and in the field. You are nothing without the basics. Make sure you research your options for what type of program would suit you. There are a variety of programs ranging from privately owned, to college run programs, as well as accelerated programs. I myself chose to do a college based program. The hours fit my work and family schedule, and offered financial aid. Some private programs do not offer a financial aid option, which means you would be paying out of pocket immediately. Prices for paramedic school vary. I have seen a range between $5k and 13k for pricing. Make sure you weigh your options, do your research and go for what would offer you the best chance of being successful. Good luck in all of your future endeavors, and I wish you all the best.
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RU-Responders Unite, is an EMT/ Medic student from Massachusetts. She has been working in this field for a little over 6 years, with no end in sight. She has 3 children, and is married to a paramedic known collectively as EH, who has been in the business for a little over 7 years. RU never imagined working in EMS, but happened to fall in love with it after taking the class.