Paramedic Training and Education

Training to be a Paramedic

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Save yourself—Paul Lewis UK (Flickr.com)

Paramedics are some of the greatest heroes of the medical world. They are called upon to care for patients in chaotic, stressful and often dangerous situations while staying cool, collected and focused. The paramedic has to be prepared for just about anything – from blood and guts to psychotic breakdowns – and they must know how to provide appropriate emergency care until the patient can be handed over to senior medical professionals.

The Skinny on Paramedic Training

Paramedic training is accomplished in several stages, and will usually require between 18 to 24 months to complete. The aspiring paramedic will go through the various levels of EMS training, starting with the very basics of emergency care, and progressing to more advanced medical skills and knowledge of anatomy, and physiology.

Getting Started

Before enrolling in EMT training, an aspiring paramedic must have earned a high school diploma or GED. They are also required to be at least 18 years old before beginning their training. Students will need to pass a physical examination and be screened for hepatitis B and tuberculosis. Certain states will also require aspiring paramedics to undergo a criminal background check before they can begin their studies.

EMT-Basic Training

EMT-Basic training (or EMT-B) is the first step on the road to becoming a paramedic, and is a prerequisite for paramedic certification. EMT-B programs are offered through community colleges as well as through emergency medical service providers (i.e. fire departments).

An EMT-B program can usually be completed within 3-12 weeks, and combines classroom lessons with hands-on training and aptitude enhancement. A typical program will require 120 hours of training, though this number differs slightly from state to state.

These programs are designed to prepare students to respond appropriately to medical emergencies. Training may include hands-on work in ambulances and emergency settings. Common courses include topics like:

– Trauma Scenarios

– Assessing Patients

– Emergency Responsiveness

– Handling Cardiac Emergencies

– Managing Respiratory Systems

EMT Intermediate Training

This second step will build on the skills and knowledge learned in the EMT-B program. Here again, specific course requirements will vary from one state to the next. Depending on the scope of practice, EMT-Intermediate (or EMT-I) training can take from 30-350 hours to complete. EMT-I courses can be taken at many 2-year colleges as well as at certain medical schools.

While EMT-I courses will vary slightly to conform to specific state requirements, the course content will be largely based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Standard Curriculum. Students will continue learning how to care for victims of medical emergencies, though that education will also be supplemented by lessons on emergency communication systems, related vocabulary, and legal issues pertaining to emergency medical care.

Common courses will include:

– A patient assessment course, instructing EMT-I students in quick examination of patients, including their breathing, if they are in shock, if any injuries were sustained, and their medical history and anatomy.

– A course in the recognition and treatment of shock. This will provide students with the skills to quickly recognize trauma and stabilize a victim in shock. They will learn various techniques for patient stabilization as well as the various causes associated with shock.

– An airway and breathing course. EMTs and paramedics are often called to situations where a patient is not breathing or is having trouble breathing. This course will provide the skills needed to open airways and restore breathing quickly.

EMT-I students will work in hands-on settings both in the field and in hospitals while they hone their skills. They will practice patient assessment, administering medications and IVs, and other techniques, and will experience working in various departments of a medical facility. They may also work with an ambulance team as they develop their skills before taking the EMT-I certification exam.

Paramedic Training

The EMT-Paramedic program rounds out a paramedic’s education before he enters the emergency response force. This final step will take between 1 – 2 years to complete. It’s fairly common for paramedic programs to require applicants to have 6 months or more of real-life experience as a basic or intermediate EMT. Not all programs have this prerequisite, but many will give preference to applicants with experience.

A paramedic program may provide either a certificate or an associate’s degree. Upon completion, the paramedic will have all the abilities of the lower EMT levels; however, he or she will also have many more advanced skills, including the ability to use a wide range of complex medical equipment, read EKGs, and perform endotracheal intubations.

Some common courses include:

– Cardiology

– Anatomy

– Pharmacology

– Disease Control

– EMT Systems Management

– Communications

Licensure

A paramedic can begin practicing once he has completed the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification exam. Some states do offer an additional certification exam for paramedics as well.

The NREMT exams are cognitive computer based examinations that test potential paramedics and EMTs in six major categories: Airway and Breathing, Cardiology, Medical, Trauma, OB/Gyn/Peds, and Operations. These important aspects of pre-hospital care practice are tested to ensure that EMTs and paramedics are capable and ready to provide the best care possible in high-stress situations.

Continuing Education

Licensure must be maintained through continuing education credits, and must be renewed every 2-3 years. Specific requirements differ by individual state. Paramedics can take refresher courses and continuing education courses online. This allows them to keep their licensing certification up to date without missing work.

Continuing education courses may include topics like:

– Dealing with Stress and Burnout

– Handling Hazardous Material Emergencies

– Allergy Management

– Child Abuse and Neglect

– Emergency Cardiac Care

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