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Home > Topics > EMS Education
February 13, 2013
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True confessions of an EMT student
by Stephanie Marshall Limmer

Becoming an EMT: The human body

Dry and complex memorization is more fun when you get involved

True Confession: It has been a long time since I had to study the human body. And honestly, it didn't really stick with me the first time. So I am coming into this section with minimal background knowledge.

Obviously, knowledge of the human body is a core building block or foundation for any successful EMS career. An understanding of where parts are, how the body systems work, and being able to use directional terms and body planes is essential to understanding a patient complaint, identifying injury and communicating with other medical professionals. I really need to learn this chapter.

The Human Body chapter is the largest chapter in the Preparatory section and one of the largest chapters in the book (with the exception of the Orthopedic Injuries chapter). There is a lot to memorize — there is no way around that. So I dive in and read the chapter, highlight key points, make study cards, and fill in the workbook. The next night, we have a 2-hour lecture reviewing the book's slides.

I realize that I need more. 

Reading a chapter doesn't do a lot more for me than give me an overview. I need to put the concepts in context, make them relevant, give them meaning and apply them to my life. So in the next few days, I start looking for ways to apply my knowledge and put it into context.  I came up with some creative ways that work for me. 

Anatomical Margo: I had my Paramedic husband create sticky notes with organs, bones, muscles and directional terms and then he gave me 1 minute to stick them in the correct places on my daughter.  We all had fun with that and it was a good hands-on contextual activity for me! At first I had the LUQ sticky note too high on her body, which led to a discussion about where the abdominal cavity is and its relation to the thoracic cavity (and the belly button!).  What a great activity to do in class on partners or on skeletons or even on a drawing of the human body!

Mnemonics: I hate memorizing, so mnemonics, acronyms, and catchy little phrases make studying easier. I reached out to some fellow EMS folks on EMT Review's Facebook page and asked for some of their favorites.  I used two of my favorites for learning the spinal column. I like the mnemonic "Chocolate Tastes Like Sweet Candy" for Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar, Sacral, Coccyx. 

For the numbers in each vertebra grouping, someone gave me this easy way to remember: We eat breakfast at 7 (7 Cervical), Lunch at 12 (12 Thoracic) and dinner at 5:54 (5 Lumbar, 5 Sacral, 4 Coccyx). 

Khan Academy Videos - When studying the heart and circulation, the image in my book wasn't quite doing it for me.  My instructor had done a diagram on the board during lecture and it had made sense then, but at home during my studying I felt like I wasn't quite grasping the entire process. 

So I turned to the Khan Academy Lungs and Pulmonary System video and the Circulatory System and the Heart video. I love the Khan Academy!  If you have not discovered them yet- check them out for nearly any K-12 academic topic. 

Yoga A & P - I do yoga nearly every day.  One day at the end of my practice in  Shavasana (corpse pose) I was listening to the instructor talk about consciously "breathing" every part of my body and she was listing all the parts of the body from head to toe on each side of the body: "Breathe your head, your collar bone, your shoulder, your right upper arm, your right elbow, your right lower arm, your right wrist…" (You get the point…) I started in behind her "Occipital bone, clavicle, shoulder girdle, humerus, radius, ulna, carpals…" 

This could work for muscles too. It defeats yoga's purpose of unwinding the mind and releasing my brain - but honestly, the preparation for the quiz on this chapter wasn't making my mind calm anyway!  

I understand that there is a lot to fit into an EMT course schedule and it is already like a river pushing past its banks and overflowing. My question for instructors: How many hours of lecture or days of class do you go over the human body and its systems and is it enough?  My question for students: What are some of your learning tricks for studying and putting the concepts you read in the book into context?

About the author

Stephanie Marshall Limmer is the CEO of Limmer Creative, an EMS mobile publishing company. She has worked in the marketing, publishing and technology industries and holds a Master of Library & Information Studies from the University at Buffalo. For purposes of this column, she is an EMT Student.
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