Patient Contact | Eastern North Carolina Now | Students pursue EMT certifications to increase clinical experience for medical school applications

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Kristen Martin.

For ECU students pursuing dreams of attending medical school, obtaining EMT certification is an innovative way to get clinical experience while improving patient communication. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

    For many undergraduate students with dreams of attending medical school, obtaining clinical experience means shadowing physicians or volunteering in a hospital. However, several students at East Carolina University are pursuing a different path - emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.

    "Our highly motivated and innovative students are constantly exploring new and unique ways of obtaining knowledge and experience that move them closer to achieving their career goals," said Dr. Todd Fraley, interim dean of the Honors College. "They also benefit from a supportive Honors College community that helps them manage their school commitments while working as an EMT."

    In North Carolina, individuals must complete an emergency medical service training course before they can take the EMS certification exam. After passing the exam, the license will remain valid for four years.

    "It's a good way to get patient contact hours," said Jayda Bodine, an ECU Honors College and EC Scholar alumna. "But for me, my dad is in the military, so I also thought about going the military medical route. This was to see if I would enjoy the emergency side of things."

    Bodine has a passion for medicine but didn't have any family members in the medical field to discuss her plans. Once she arrived at ECU, she began connecting with older students who also planned on going to medical school.

    "I didn't even know that being an EMT was a thing," she said. "I thought that paramedics were the only people in the back of the truck. Once I came to college, I was talking to older honors students about what they did to prepare for medical school and I just kept hearing about EMTs."

    Unfortunately, Bodine was in the middle of her training course when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and many emergency service facilities weren't accepting new volunteers. However, she was determined to use her new certification and help patients, so she connected with Rebecca Blanchard, a faculty member in the College of Health and Human Performance.

    "She said that even though the Greenville area wasn't taking new EMT volunteers, medical transport would be a good way to get your foot in the door," Bodine said. "That builds up your resume and you would be able to switch, but through this I've realized that I like knowing my patients. I like being able to keep up with them and see how they're doing on a long-term basis versus just patching them up and sending them out."

    Working the night shift in nonemergency medical transport means that Bodine mainly receives calls from hospitals to transport stabilized patients to higher care facilities. For those working the day shift, calls range from transporting patients from nursing facilities to their doctor appointments and dialysis treatments to hospital discharges.

    "It's helped me realize that emergency medicine, even though it is very attractive from the outside, isn't necessarily for me," she said. "I prefer to have that constant relationship with patients."

    Medical transport has helped Bodine feel more comfortable around patients, especially with taking the lead in their medical care.

    "I think it's beneficial as far as getting your foot in the door with medical professionals because you can pick their brain about anything," she said. "We've got one paramedic who's been in the medical field since he was 16. He didn't even take an EMT test because he was grandfathered in. Now he's a medic and he knows everything there is to know so I love asking him questions."

    Another student who feels her EMT certification has led to better communication skills with patients is Elizabeth Chan, a senior EC Scholar majoring in biology and Hispanic studies.

    "I'm always younger than the patient so being able to approach an older patient and still be able to talk to them professionally and not feel awkward that I'm so young will help if I end up doing orthopedics because those patients will definitely be older than I will be," she said.

    To fulfill her dreams of becoming a doctor, Chan knew that she would need a lot of hours of clinical experience. While many of her peers received their CNA certification, she was drawn to EMT training.

    "EMT was much more exciting and fast-paced in the moment, so I thought it would be really good to learn to work on my feet," she said. "I also really like how being an EMT, you actually go into the patient's home and see the other side of health care, not just in a hospital."

    Chan not only volunteers at the Winterville Fire-Rescue-EMS department as an EMT, but she also performed administrative duties for the department as part of her EC Scholars leadership internship this spring.

    "Being able to meet all of the paramedics at my station and the firefighters has been one of the best parts of my internship on top of all of the experience," she said. "Just learning, not only EMS and health care, but learning about firefighters and how there is so much that goes into that as well."

    Balancing her volunteer hours with a full course load hasn't been too much of a problem for her.

    "Luckily, the EMTs at my station are really flexible with the schedule," she said. "I have access to the whole schedule and can put whatever times I need. For my station, there's a requirement for 24 hours a month, so two shifts, but they're not super strict because they understand that we're students."

    On nights that aren't busy, Chan is able to get a lot of her homework done at the station. Like Bodine, COVID-19 affected her experience.

    "In my class, none of us really got any patient contact," she said. "We did practice scenarios in class and had to sign off on that because there's no way we were going to get patient contact. That was one of the reasons why I started as a volunteer."

    Chan encourages other students who wish to pursue EMT certification to start the process early so they can learn their station and get comfortable with the people working there.

    "It's hard in the beginning because you don't know how much you can do and they don't really know you at all," she said. "After more time volunteering at a station and working with the same people, they know what you can do, and you can take more initiative."

    After attending medical school Chan wants to stay in North Carolina to work as a physician and feels her time volunteering as an EMT has helped her learn more than health care.

    "It's a good opportunity to see the demographic of people who live in eastern North Carolina because I'm from the Raleigh area, which isn't as rural," she said. "It's cool to hear about specific patients and their backgrounds and learn more about eastern North Carolina."
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