A path to success
For high school seniors, who stand on the cusp of adulthood, choosing a career is among the most daunting decisions they must make. Deciding what they want to do with their lives is no easy task, especially when one considers that most students must undertake significant levels of personal debt to finance advanced educations.
For students in Grand County who are considering the medical field or work as a first responder or one of any number of related fields the Grand County Emergency Medical Services (GCEMS) Department offers a truly unique learning opportunity. Each year, beginning in the fall and ending in the spring in conjunction with local school calendars GCEMS offers an Emergency Medical Technician High School Course for seniors in Grand County.
The program offers local seniors the option of taking the EMT High School Course as part of their regular class schedule. The classes qualify as credit through the school districts in Grand County but that’s not what makes the course so special. After completing the EMT High School Course students can take the National Registry test for EMTs and if they pass become certified EMTs.
“In Grand County what we are constantly trying to do is find mechanisms that help our youth find career paths,” said GCEMS Chief Ray Jennings. “We offer this at the high schools and kids come out with job ready skills.”
The department’s Education Captain Audrey Jennings administers the program. Jennings oversees two instructors from the department who lead most of the class work; former MPHS graduate Katharyn Woodard and Paramedic Matt Lyons. Woodard was a graduate of the EMT High School Course while attending school in East Grand. After completing her high school education Woodard went on to receive her bachelor’s degree from Mesa State before returning to GCEMS and working as an instructor among other duties. She is preparing to attend Physician Assistant School in the near future.
Woodard is an exemplar of what GCEMS is trying to achieve with the EMT High School Course but she is far from the only example. All told roughly 130 students from East and West Grand have completed the course since the mid-aughts with an additional 10 students taking the course this year. Of those about 20 students have come back to work for the department over the years.
Over the duration of the course students are instructed in a variety medical emergencies and how to manage such situations and treat patients. Education Captain Jennings outlined a few of the broad categories students study including trauma emergency, controlling patient airways, ambulance operation, scene management, patient assessment and more.
“It is adult learning,” Jennings said. “We treat the students like they are adults. We educate them that way and it helps prepare them for how they will learn in college.”
The students train with the real equipment EMTs use in the field. They also undergo clinical training, working 16 hours on an ambulance and doing two eight-hour shifts with ER technicians at St. Anthony’s in Lakewood over the course of the year.
“Our program is based off of scenario training programs similar to the military,” said Chief Jennings. “It is how you become proficient under stress.”
The EMT High School Course is somewhat of a continuation of the adult EMT courses offered by GCEMS each summer. The High School Course follows the same curriculum and has the same standards and requirements for students as adults.
History of the program
The genesis of the program started in the early 2000s and was initially conceived as an after school program. Education Captain Jennings explained the initial trials of the course as an after school program did not see much use, owing to the busy schedules of senior students who would take the class.
GCEMS went back to the drawing board and came up with a new plan. Beginning in 2006 the EMT High School Course became a formal class offered to seniors at Middle Park High School (MPHS) and West Grand High School (WGHS) as well as home schooled students and those who attend local Christian schools. The course begins in the fall and runs throughout the school year.
The class is open to any senior students but officials from GCEMS recommend students interested in taking the course take anatomy, medical terminology or any other related courses offered to students as juniors to better prepare themselves for the rigorous course work. Because anyone taking the National Registry test for EMTs must be 18 the course offered by GCEMS is only available to senior students. Chief Jennings especially recommends the course for any students interested in joining the medical profession.
Along with technical instruction the course can also serve as a lesson in what students do not want to do in terms of a career. Ooccasionally students taking the course who had their hearts set on the medical professional realize the work is not really what they are looking for, said Chief Jennings.
“Sometimes kids realize from the classes that this isn’t what they want to do,” Chief Jennings said.
There is a $1,200 fee for the adult EMT class but the cost of the class is waived for the students as part of the commitment to the program from Grand County and the Board of County Commissioners. According to Jennings Grand County EMS is the only ambulance service in the entire state of Colorado that offers such a program.
“The best thing about this is watching young men and young women have their confidence grow and build; watching their knowledge grow and build,” Chief Jennings said. “It is obviously a strong time commitment and a commitment from the County Commissioners. That team effort has allowed us to have great success, build an overall education program and help our high schoolers with their success in life.”
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The Grand Lake Fire Protection District has abandoned a voter-approved effort to run its own EMS transports as the department and county officials re-evaluate how that service might be provided.