Educating EMTs

Two paramedics receive a dispatch to report to a motorcycle accident. While pushing a cot, with stethoscopes around their necks and walkie-talkies in their hands, they arrive at the scene to discover the motorcyclist lying in the street with an abrasion of the forehead, a deformity of the bicep and blood seeping from the thigh. They race against the clock to get the patient onto a backboard, lug him onto the cot, and rush him into an ambulance within 10 minutes, all while correctly bandaging his body, checking his vitals and moving him in a way that will not further his injuries.

This trauma isn’t real, but it’s also not a scene from next week’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” either. Instead, it’s a mock scenario played out in the Emergency Health Services area of the GW Hospital as part of a class; the “injuries” are actually marked out by tape, and the “paramedics” are two students, along with 38 others, in the Basic Emergency Medical Technician class.

The labs are done in preparation for the upcoming final exam, where a critical fail is an easy mistake to make.

“Every time I walk into this class my heart has palpitations,” sophomore Jen Goldston said.

And it’s not just a personal pressure to succeed; students are paired with partners. If one fails, so does the other.

“Trust is the main component in this class,” sophomore Ben Chester said.

The students must attend a 4-hour class every week, in addition to the 4-hour lab, in which some students play EMT, others play patient, and everyone learns to assess major and minor medical injuries. They also develop specific skills like splinting and bleeding control.

Wanda Herbel, the coordinator for the program, said she, along with three to six instructors depending on the amount of students in a lab, bring their experiences as EMTs from the streets to the class. They give students examples of calls they’ve received in the past, allowing students to see if this is a field into which they truly want to go.

“It really confirms that I want to do patient-care work,” said Johanna De Graffenreid, who is working toward getting her certification for nursing.

Herbel said she believes the students can “apply what they learned” in class during these labs. Acting as EMTs, the students must attend to “patients” in situations as intense as scuba-diving accidents. They must vocalize to their instructors every step they are making and answer the questions thrown at them.

“Riddle me this, Batman,” asked one instructor, Chris Neidhart, “If I have a patient who’s breathing, can I move him right away?”

Although the students think quickly for the answers, the tension is frequently cut with an outburst of laughter at a clear mistake or an Oscar-worthy line of a student playing patient: “Ow… my leg.”

“They’ve learned how to be actors in this class, too,” Herbel said.

The skills the students have learned and are still honing are no joke at all; the attention to details and the push for perfection is noticeable.

“It’s a high level of expectation,” Herbel said, “And the students, God love them… they’ll get there.”

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