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Integrating student interns into your community paramedicine program

Teaming up with local colleges can bring your community paramedicine program expert assistance today while paving the way for progress tomorrow


As challenges loom regarding the financial sustainability of community paramedicine programs nationwide, teaming up with student interns has proven to be an affordable and effective strategy.

Photo by Kyle S. Richardson, FirstNet

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As challenges loom regarding the financial sustainability of community paramedicine programs nationwide, teaming up with student interns has proven to be an affordable and effective strategy.

Through a partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the Birmingham Fire and Rescue C.A.R.E.S. program has received the benefits of many creative student minds.

Currently, our program hosts students from the UAB School of Nursing and the UAB Department of Social Work Master’s Program on a rolling basis.

The student interns from the Department of Social Work assist our team with basic case management, while nursing students produce a variety of community projects each semester to assist C.A.R.E.S. in its mission.

There are a few things to keep in mind in to make partnership with a local college successful:

  1. Start with “why” to inspire action.
  2. Keep it small.
  3. Share the story.
  4. Be an advocate for their future.

1. Start with “why”

Author Simon Sinek gave a famous Ted Talk titled, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” In the talk, Sinek explains that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Without the aid of monetary incentives, getting the best work out of student interns will rely heavily on your ability to inspire them into action.

Don’t simply throw the students into the middle of the problem and expect results. Think about your own path that brought you to community paramedicine. What inspired you? Take the students on your journey. Give them a chance to assimilate into the life of fire and EMS so they can better understand our current limitations.

Allow them to see what it’s like to respond to emergency calls through an ambulance ride along. Let them eat a meal with the crew at a fire station so they can hear, firsthand, the crew’s hopes and frustrations.

Chances are that any intern that chooses to serve his or her time with a fire department is not someone who wanted to be stuck in an office all day. So, if anything, at least they’ll get to go home with a good story.

That might be all it takes to get them on your side.

2. Keep it small

As a former paramedic educator, I have always loved introducing students to the world of EMS. When I started working with students from UAB, I had a hard time telling anyone “no.”

In addition to hosting master’s level interns, I also agreed to take any of their interested undergraduate students on ride-alongs as well.

A week after I made the offer, I had 16 students on the schedule to come with me, with more requests landing in my inbox every day. The response was overwhelming.

I’ll admit that I was a little embarrassed when I had to send an email to their professor a few days later to retract my offer.

Do not take on more than you can handle. Otherwise, you may quickly find yourself acting more as a tour guide for interested students rather than building a quality community paramedicine program.

3. Go public with your partnership

Outside the world of EMS, the concept of community paramedicine is still not well known. In order to thrive, we need to recruit advocates outside of our profession.

Partnerships with student programs can help spread the word to members of the school’s alumni and faculty who may have otherwise never heard about it.

Take the opportunity to raise the public’s awareness by sharing your collaborative successes via social media.

If you do not have a social media presence, then who better to get you up to date on the latest technology than a student intern?

4. Be an advocate for their future

For some students, internships can be their introduction to the working world.

Be honest with regards to their job performance so they can be aware of the areas where they need to improve.

If your department does not have a plan to hire the intern, then be sure to facilitate opportunities for the student to network with other community agencies that might be interested.

Review their resumes and offer to write letters of recommendation. Insist that they list you as a reference.

Lastly, be sure to thank them for the contributions they added to your program, no matter how large or small.

As exciting as this time in community paramedicine can be, breaking outside of our normal role of EMS providers has been a slow process. Changing today’s perceptions of what we are capable of providing has not been easy.

But by partnering with student interns now, tomorrow’s perception can be as wide as we want to make it.


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This article, originally published on Nov. 5, 2018, has been updated.

Ben Thompson is a battalion chief in Birmingham, Alabama. In 2016, Thompson developed his department’s first mobile integrated health (MIH) program and shared his experiences from building the program at TEDxBirmingham. Thompson was the recipient of the 2016 Emergency Medical Service Provider of the Year Award and the 2018 Joe E. Acker Award for Innovation in Emergency Medical Services, both in Jefferson County, Alabama. He has a bachelor’s degree from Athens State University in Alabama and is a licensed paramedic. Connect with Thompson through his website