Becoming an EMT: My first day at EMT class
An ongoing series about learning and living in (and out) of the EMS classroom and the pathway to becoming an EMT
Welcome to the opening dialogue about learning to be an EMS provider, from the perspectives of both a student and an educator. Stephanie Limmer is a self-described "introverted librarian" who is the CEO of Limmer Creative LLC, an EMS education software company that was founded by EMS textbook author Dan Limmer, and yes, Stephanie's husband. When Stephanie began attending an EMT class to learn more formally about the content in her organization's products shared her experiences with EMS1. To balance her perspective, Art Hsieh, an EMS educator and EMS1 editorial advisor shares his thoughts about the challenges Stephanie faces and experiences that can be unique to the preparation of an EMS provider. We hope that this unique series will shed some insight into the world of EMS education. If you are new to our profession, please feel welcome to share your thoughts with us!
True confessions from the first day of EMT training.
True Confession 1: I am old.
Ok, I am not OLD, but I am twice the age of the majority of the students in my EMT class. The average age of my classmates seems to be 19. I am a 44-year-old returning student. Old enough to be their mother.
I prepared myself mentally all day — I checked the day, the time, the building and I mapped out how to get there and find the building. Since it is a night class and I knew it would be pitch dark I wanted to be prepared and on time. I am happy with my plan. Follow the plan and all will go smoothly on the first day — right?
General Custer had a plan. The reality is…
- While my husband Dan valiantly takes our daughter out to dinner, I leave a little later than planned since someone has to pick up the dishes from afterschool snacks, wash the counters and feed the dog.
- There are TWO buildings named after Peter Alfond and I ended up in the Girls Varsity Locker Room in the wrong Alfond building
After a five-minute driving tour of campus and a call to SMEMS, I find the right building and a commuter parking lot. I walk in huffing and puffing, late to class.
True Confession 2: The first class is overwhelming.
It has been 20 years since I got my graduate degree and I had forgotten how overwhelming the first class could be. After walking in late to class, I hear the introductions of the other 20 students in class. Seventeen are pre-med, pre-dental and bio/med majors. Three are firefighters from local agencies. And then there is me. The make up of the class mimics the national demographic of EMS at 30 percent female and 70 percent male.
Things begin to look up as the Instructors start passing out the class materials. First there is the “swag": the stethoscope, the penlight, the pocket mask and the blood pressure cuff. This stuff is cool! I can totally be a great EMT with these tools. I picture myself listening to people’s lungs, checking pupils, breathing life back into patients and taking blood pressures.
Then the instructors passed out the books… BIG books: the textbook, the workbook, the AHA BLS book. It is fairly intimidating to look at the 1500-plus page textbook and think “I have to learn all that in 17 weeks??” I talk myself down, telling myself that I love to read and learn and I am not averse to hard work (especially knowing that it will be all over by June!).
Next is the paperwork: the syllabus, the course guidelines, the Southern Maine EMS Student handbook, the Functional Position Description for a Maine EMS Provider, immunization record request for clinicals, a waiver for criminal background check and NREMT Skills Sheets.
This is where the overwhelming feeling sets in and becomes what I like to call “47 Ways to Fail in EMT Class.” To name a few:
- Miss three classes (tardy arrivals count for ½ class)
- Get sick for any of the four exams as there is no make up allowed
- Get less than 75 percent on final exam
- Failure to get lead or assistant instructor signature on sssessment skills station forms
- Miss a critical criteria point (or a “critical failure” as written in the course guidelines) on the NREMT BLS skills sheet
I look at all the BLS skills sheets with the list of steps and points and critical criteria and think, “I have to remember to do ALL of these steps and should I miss one of the critical criteria I fail the skill?” Intuitively I understand why I would not want an EMT at my doorstep who had failed their skills station. However, the first night it seems daunting.
I am grateful once the lecture starts and I have a chance to stop thinking about the possibilities for failure and to start learning.
In talking to seasoned EMTs about my first class experience, they reassure me that once the class gets rolling with integrated lectures and the class breaks up into groups to work on skills that it will all make more sense and will feel less overwhelming. I am glad for this advice and I hope that they are right.
Second class starts Thursday and I figure I already have a leg up in the game… I know where the classroom is… in the right building! What could go wrong?
Photo courtesy Art Hsieh
Here's me in 1986, one year out of paramedic school. Notice the food choice in the background.
From the front of the room: An educator's perspective by Art Hsieh
Stephanie's experience is not unique. Most of us can remember our first day in EMT school, saddled with the same tonnage of books and the sense of awesome responsibility of learning life saving techniques using equipment that looked so foreign and daunting.
Rest assured that the majority of us learned how to overcome our fear and nervousness and become street providers.
My advice for Stephanie is to take a deep breath and relax, knowing that she is not alone. It is a lot of information. And it is important. And the task of tackling it all begins with the first step, followed by the next step.
Step 1: Get organized.
Review the syllabus, the teaching plan that the instructor has set out on paper. Record your reading assignments, deadlines and exam dates into your calendar, be it paper or electronic. Doing so will begin to break that mountain of information into more discrete chunks that will be easier to swallow.
Step two: Create your schedule and stick with it.
Once you know what is due on what dates, think about how much time you'll need to complete it. Each person is different; don't simply mimic what other people are doing. Take into consideration factors such as work, family, eating, and sleeping. Think about when you are most alert – not everyone is bright and early riser!
Once you figure out how much time you can devote to studying, schedule it just like a job. Creating a schedule gives you the routine that creates anticipation. Think of it like preparing your brain to switch gears and be ready to absorb information.
Step three: Consider not just when to study, but how to as well.
Start by reviewing each class and textbook chapter objectives. They provide a framework for your brain to start filling in the gaps of knowledge as you read or work through the workbook, online or class activities.
Not everyone learns simply by reading, but it is still clear that you have to do some reading. Be an active learner – if you struggle with the textbook, consider the ancillary resources that might come with the text, such as the workbook or the online resources. Doing online searches for information about difficult topics can often produce explanations that you might find easier to grasp.
Every journey begins with a first step, and ends with the last one. Before Stephanie knows it, those first day jitters will be replaced with memories of hopefully interesting — and fun — sessions learning about our profession.