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Iowa high school apprenticeship program fills gaps in EMS

Bettendorf High School students apprentice as vehicle service technicians before gaining national registry certification and work as an EMT


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Olivia Allen
Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus

BETTENDORF, Iowa — Bettendorf High School grew its pipeline for healthcare careers this year, becoming one of the first schools in Iowa to offer an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) Apprenticeship program.

Partnering with MEDIC EMS, students start the program as vehicle service technicians while taking EMT courses at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges over the summer. Bettendorf has four students, all seniors, in the program. right now.

Once students are certified — i.e., pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam — they can then start working as an EMT.

Having already conquered the NREMT, Bettendorf apprentice Peyton Morse now works late-night weekend shifts at MEDIC EMS.

To her, forming relationships and learning from patients and MEDIC EMS staff was the biggest benefit of the apprenticeship program.

“You gain so much knowledge, and not only for EMT and paramedic school, but just for life in general,” Morse said.

Another student, Kaitlyn Reis, agreed.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to help people that can’t really help themselves,” she added.

Haleigh Hoyt, Bettendorf’s career readiness coordinator, said Iowa’s Registered Apprenticeship programs exceed minimum certification requirements, as students have to meet additional standards.

“Some (standards) speak specifically to the skill set they need to be EMTs,” she said. “But others are communication, how to be an effective teammate ... working on all of those before they started working on the patient care side.”

Since MEDIC EMS employs the apprentices as VSTs first, students have time to practice these standards prior to becoming a full-fledged EMT.

“These students all have a wide variety of plans, all in healthcare,” Hoyt said. “The skill sets that they’re learning, they’ll use them everywhere.”

Three students in the program are considering whether to pursue a four-year degree or attend paramedic school locally after graduating.

“I think a lot of us did this apprenticeship as a stepping stone to see how we feel about the medical field,” said Abigail Gamble, who plans to attend paramedic school and a two-year college simultaneously.

When asked about the most beneficial information she learned, Gamble cites tactics to help individuals cope with trauma.

“I’d say for me, it was learning how to handle different people,” said another apprentice, Adrianna McGee. “You end up meeting and talking to so many different patients, so learning how to talk to these people — when sometimes, it’s like the worst day they’ve ever had — has been very beneficial.”

The students agreed that the program’s summer coursework helped to balance their apprenticeships with busy high school life.

“Honestly, I feel like it’s been a struggle ... but it’s also made me a lot more responsible,” Morse said. “Planning and learning how to manage your time definitely helped.”

When times got stressful, McGee said leaning on her fellow classmates in the program helped.

“There were definitely rough patches,” Reis added. “But I think doing this at such a young age, and being able to overcome those ... I think is super rewarding.”

The students urged future EMT apprentices to ask plenty of questions and soak in the experience.

“Just take it step by step,” McGee said.

MEDIC EMS approached Bettendorf High School about the apprenticeship program, as the pandemic created a shortage of local EMTs.

“For about a year and a half ... we had basically no EMTs coming into the system,” said Jeremy Pessman, a fleet community relations manager at MEDIC EMS. “I think as we start to grow the program, it’s definitely going to have a major impact.”

He hopes to see more EMT apprenticeships at other area high schools.

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