Paramedic school: 10 things you need to know to pass

Follow these tips to ensure success, enjoy the experience, and leave school with a diploma and a smile

You’ve worked hard to become a competent EMT and have been accepted into the paramedic school of your dreams. Here are 10 ways to ensure you’ll pass and leave paramedic school with a smile on your face and a diploma in your hand.

1. Put yourself in a position to succeed

Paramedic school will exhaust you physically, mentally and emotionally so it’s imperative you have your life in order prior to starting. Try to plan major life-changing events such as moving or getting married before or after school. Don’t overload yourself by working too many hours at a part-time job and, if possible, try to live near school. If you do have a long commute, carpool with a classmate so you can study en route.

2. Have a good attitude and be easy to work with

No matter what your profession, this is just good life advice. No one likes working with someone who is difficult, arrogant or complains all the time; especially during long hours in the classroom or on 24-hour shifts during field internship. Be positive all the time. Ask for ways you can help out and treat everyone you encounter—your crew, the patient, their family and hospital staff—with respect at all times.

3. Create class spirit

You will need your classmates’ help to make it through paramedic school and they will need yours. By bonding as a group, you’ll be able to work stronger, better and faster, ensuring the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Foster class spirit by handing out nicknames, making class T-shirts and working out together. Create study groups and prep for big tests by taking turns creating study guides. And of course, don’t forget to document the experience of paramedic school in photos and videos, especially that first day of starting IVs on your classmates!

4. Show the instructors you want to learn

Your instructors and paramedic preceptors signed up for their jobs because they enjoy teaching the next generation of EMS foot soldiers. Show them you want to learn by asking questions, being open to advice and inquiring about their experience. During internship, keep a small notebook in your pocket so when your preceptors give you advice after a run, you can jot down their teaching points and put them into action on the next call.

5. Own your errors

We’ve all met the EMT student who fails a skills test and argues incessantly with the instructor over the injustice. It was never that student’s fault—it was always an error of the instructors, the scenario, the equipment, the timekeeper and, yes, even the lighting. If you make a mistake, accept it. Own up to it, thank the instructor for their explanation, and tell them you will never make that error again. This demonstrates maturity, the ability to confront an obstacle, recover, and make the necessary changes to move forward—all necessary traits for a successful paramedic.

6. Control what you can control

During field internship, you will leave the controlled environment of the classroom for the chaos of the street. Therefore, it’s essential you control everything that is in your power to control—know your treatment protocols, the medications you carry, the hospitals in your area and the inventory on the ambulance. Your preceptors can accept a few mistakes on-scene if you have an expert’s knowledge on everything you can control. However, if you make mistakes on-scene and aren’t dialed in on, say, your medication knowledge or treatment protocols, that is a one-two punch that sends a paramedic intern staggering towards failure.

7. Create a workable scene for yourself

Whether running a skills station in the classroom or a 911 call, you need to manage the scene and set it up so that you can easily assess and treat your patient. During skills station, set up your equipment neatly and in the order you’ll use it before the test starts and have it visible so you won’t forget to use it. On a 911 call, ask yourself what distracting elements about the scene you can change so you can work effectively. Do the lights need to be turned on? Television turned off? Does a frantic family member need to be separated from the patient? Does the patient need to be moved from the cramped hallway into the open living room? By creating a workable scene, you set yourself up for success.  

8. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail

You should begin preparing for paramedic school the moment you are accepted and pay your tuition. Set up a daily work schedule and begin studying anatomy and physiology, ECGs, the medications in the paramedic’s scope of practice and do ride-alongs with paramedics to prep for field internship. Then, when you encounter these subjects during paramedic school—which speeds along at 100 mph—you’ll hit the ground running and be ahead of the game.

9. Lead from the front

As a paramedic, you’ll be the senior medical authority on-scene and everyone—your crew, the police on scene, family, and patient—will look to you for direction. You need to accept and embrace this responsibility and leadership role in a calm and competent manner. Make solid assessment, treatment, and transport decisions. Delegate tasks to your crew and always inform the patient and their family about your treatment and transport plan. Even if you make a minor error on some element of the call, your preceptors will be able to envision you as a working paramedic.

10. Enjoy the adventure

Almost every paramedic will tell you that paramedic school was the hardest thing they’ve done. But they’ll also say it was one of the best, most inspiring experiences of their lives. As you endure late night study sessions, stressful skills exams, and verbal reprimands behind the ambulance from your preceptors after a call, stay positive and remember it is all part of the unique paramedic school rite-of-passage. Thousands of paramedics have gone to paramedic school before you, endured similar stresses, have succeeded, and are rooting for you.

Now go forth and save lives!

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