EMT class is a marathon

Like training for a marathon, your EMT education requires regimented and disciplined preparation

This Sunday, I am running the New York City Marathon. It will be my seventh marathon in the last five years.

Marathon training is usually 16-20 weeks of focused running and cross training, about the same length as an EMT class. Each week I have three primary running work-outs: speed intervals, a tempo run, and a long run that is based on covering specific distances at a specific mile per minute pace.

My finish time goal is based on my past experience, fitness entering the training period, and difficulty of the marathon course.

My speed interval running sessions are repeat runs of shorter distances with short breaks between each interval. For example, one of my favorite speed workouts is 10 x 400m with a 400m jog between each interval. I complete a high effort, short distance run with a brief recovery.

In EMT class, skill practice sessions are like running speed intervals. Auscultating the blood pressure of a single classmate does not build skill or confidence. Auscultating ten or twenty classmate’s blood pressures in rapid succession does. The same goes for heart rate and respiration measurement. A splinting rodeo is another type of speed workout. Rotate through six or more skill stations splinting different extremity injuries.

Tempo runs are my favorite workout. The distance is enough for me to get a runner’s high, the pace makes me feel like I am pushing myself, and I can be done in 60 to 90 minutes. Early in training I run tempos at about half-marathon (13.1 mile) race pace. As the weeks go by I increase my effort to 10k (6.2 miles) race pace.

In EMT class, patient assessment scenarios are like tempo runs. You are working, and assessed, in real time. For example, you pull together your trauma patient assessment and treatment skills in a single scenario that needs to be completed in about 10 minutes or less.

Long runs are where I become a marathon runner. In the first few weeks of training long runs are 10 to 15 miles. As the weeks go by I build up the mileage until I have completed several 20-22 mile runs. The purpose of long runs is to build endurance for a sustained effort.

Your clinical experience is like a long training run. Not only are you evaluated on the patient assessment skills, but also on your EMS professional skills. Did you arrive on time and ready for the clinical? Do you have the right uniform and assessment tools? How do you manage your time between calls? Do you use it to read your textbook, study for an upcoming quiz, or ask your preceptor questions? During a clinical you are expected to maintain a sustained effort as an EMT for eight hours or more. Being successful is based on the “mileage” you built up in the lab and the classroom.

An important part of a two to three hour long run is regular consumption of food and fluids, just as at is on race day. I carry Gatorade for when I'm thirsty and food to eat every 45 to 60 minutes. Stopping at a restaurant is not guaranteed during a busy clinical shift. It is better to have a lunch bag with healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, granola bars, and a sandwich made with whole grain bread. Wash it all down with water, milk, or a 100% fruit juice beverage.

Another important component of my marathon preparation is cross training with cycling and swimming. Two days a week I do a high intensity and low impact aerobic workout. Mix up your EMT education with other academic pursuits. Logical courses to compliment what you are learning in EMT class include anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, chemistry, and biology. Courses in other academic subjects like communications, computers, literature, math, business, and leadership will strengthen you as an EMT.

I minimize my exercise on two days a week. I might still go for a short walk or ride bikes with my kids, but I really try to take it easy. Likewise, build rest days into your EMT course schedule. Instead of using a rest day to stay out late and party hard, use the rest day to catch-up on sleep, reconnect with your family and friends, eat some healthy meals, and participate in a hobby that will recharge your batteries for the resumption of your EMT training.

Note: You can follow my progress during the New York City Marathon.

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