On Tuesday of this week, I officially graduated from the RC Health Services EMT program.
I'm not going to candy coat this. It was challenging, stressful and at times frustrating. But I certainly have much more confidence in my ability to help someone in a medical emergency than I did when I started.
But let's back up a bit.
Right now, there is a national shortage of EMTs, paramedics and nurses. One EMS agency I spoke with told me "we are hiring paramedics now that ten years ago we would not even interview," evidencing the extent of the shortage. Last weekend, while completing my ambulance rotations, I visited with an EMS shift commander in a small Texas town who told me that 50 percent of the paramedic positions in their EMS system are currently unfilled.
This shortage plays out in a number of ways. One way we expect to see it play out is in the response time for medical responders. EMS response time varies by city and location. In a rural area, it may be quite a while before a medically trained firefighter, police officer or EMS employee arrives on scene. Even in my suburban Austin neighborhood, complete with a fire station only two miles away, with a 911 call of "CPR in progress" (a story that I shared with you previously), it took over 10 minutes for the Austin Fire Department to respond. Austin EMS took even longer.
The lack of staffing and longer response times means all of us should expect to be on our own for a period of time before help arrives. It's just that simple.
I talk a lot about becoming your own first responder. Back in early 2016, I felt like I was not doing a good job of that when it came to medical training. So I began to seek out the training I felt would be the most beneficial to me. My criteria included:
The EMT training fit all of these, although in some ways it was like killing a fly with a shotgun. In a sense, it was a far more robust option than I really needed just for basic knowledge. But that rigorous training will enable me to volunteer with fire departments and EMS systems, which in turn will allow me to practice perishable skills and learn new ones.
Rather than doing an intensive three to four week course, I opted for a less expensive, on line option that I could do from home. Once you sign up, you are on the clock - everything must be completed within six months. The lecture portion was all on line - a series of 40 modules (one module for each chapter of the text book), which concludes with an online quiz on the chapter material. Like any other subject, some chapters were easier than others. I tried to do three chapters a week. Some weeks I exceeded that goal, while other weeks (when work or life was in the way), I did fewer chapters.
The "skills" portion - bandaging, CPR, splinting, administering oxygen, albuterol and epi-pens, doing medical and trauma assessments - were taught in a live classroom and then tested on as well. Skills training and testing days were quite stressful. It's hard to learn a skill by doing it once or twice and then be expected to do it in the right order and within the time allotted.
Once the classroom and skills training were completed, I sat for my written final exam and oral boards. I was behind in my training - I had hoped to be done with everything by Christmas - and so I had already decided in early January that if I failed the written exam, I would drop from the course. My busy season was upon me, and I had run out of gas and time to study. Fortunately, I made a 91 on my exam, prompting me to excitedly utter a swear word in the testing room so loudly that the proctor came in to see if I was okay.
This achievement entitled me to do clinicals - 24 hours on an ambulance, and 24 hours in a hospital emergency department (ED). These shifts were done in 12 hours increments, which I chose to complete over two consecutive weekends. Waking up at 4:30 AM to be across town on an ambulance for 12 hours, only to do the same thing the next morning in the hospital ED was quite tiring to say the least. But it allowed me to complete my hours and rush the training to completion.
I'll sit for the national EMT registry exam in the next few weeks. I need to do some studying on line for it (but as every attorney knows, if you have a standardized multiple choice exam and a good review course, it's just a matter of figuring out "the system"). While I was quite stressed about the final written exam and the skills testing in my training course, the national registry exam doesn't spook me. I'm making about 80% on the practice exams at the moment.
Once I have the state EMT license in hand, I'll be eligible to volunteer with a fire department, a medical mission trip, or other organization that utilizes EMTs. I could also pick up some shifts at a hospital ED as a technician (while it may seem odd to do so, it's a great place to learn a lot of great skills very quickly and get paid to do it.)
I am looking forward to getting more experience. We are far more likely to need to know medical skills than self defense skills, firefighting skills, or wilderness survival skills. And yet many in the preparedness community put gun and survival skills much higher on their priority lists than medical training. I can assure you: a heart attack or anaphylactic emergency can kill you just as quickly as a guy with a gun.
This training came at a financial and personal cost. Aside from the tuition, I spent a lot of evenings, weekends, and even time on my vacation completing the coursework. My very patient wife told me as I was concluding all of this that "you need to take a break from taking on any more projects - training, writing a book, whatever - for a while."
She's right, of course. I plan on taking the rest of 2017 off from any new time consuming initiatives and rather consolidating what I've already learned.
But I think it's worth mentioning - a number of people asked me how I found time to do these things. In some ways, it's easier for me than others, since I don't have small kids needing my attention. But at the same time, I get stuff like this done because I don't spend time watching television, attending football games, or going to the lake in the summer time. If being prepared is important to you, you will find a way to do it.
Would I do it again? Ask me that again in a few months. I'm fairly exhausted by all of it at the moment. If I were to do it again, I'd go about it much differently. I would spend as much time as necessary reading the text book before I even started the class, taking copious notes along the way. It would have greatly reduced my time and stress during the actual classroom and online training.
At a minimum, however, I'm convinced that every American should know:
We can make America stronger by learning new skills and being ready to help others. I hope you will consider doing so.
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