EMT workers

Addressing a Workforce Need for Paramedics

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First responders are individuals who run toward a dangerous situation while everyone else is running away. From firefighters to police officers to paramedics, these individuals put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. When searching online, news stories throughout the country are discussing a national shortage of paramedics. In Collier County, Hodges University and Collier County Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS) are working together to fill the growing need for certified paramedics.

In summer 2016, Tabatha Butcher, chief of CCEMS, approached Hodges University faculty about the idea of hosting a paramedic class. Individuals typically work a shift-friendly schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off; however, due to the critical need for paramedics, an individual who just worked a 24-hour shift would often be asked to stay. Because this situation can produce much stress and potential burnout in current employees, the department made the decision to do something about it.

Michele Williamson, battalion chief for CCEMS, originally presented the idea to Butcher. While attending a Leadership Collier class, Butcher met Dr. Aysegul Timur, who introduced her to Tracy Ramsay, former professor and director of program development in Hodges’ School of Health Sciences. After discussing the idea with Butcher, Ramsay met with Dr. William Griz, dean of the School of Health Sciences, to explore the opportunity.

When presenting the idea to local schools, Hodges University was most receptive, Instead of students meeting the needs of the college, the college was willing to meet the needs of the students.” – Michele Williamson

Jeffery Ziomek

Jeffery Ziomek

However, it wasn’t until Jeffrey Ziomek joined the university in early 2017 that the program started to become a reality. An adjunct faculty member in the School of Health Sciences, Ziomek earned his master’s degree in health science education from Florida Gulf Coast University and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in public administration at Capella University. With more than 20 years of experience working in emergency services and public health in Buffalo, New York, he moved to Southwest Florida in 2006 after accepting a position at Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) (formerly known as Edison State College) serving as the program coordinator for the school’s emergency medical technician (EMT) program.

While working at FSW, he became acquainted with Williamson, who also served as one of his adjunct instructors. After many years working together, Williamson left FSW; however, the two remained in contact. At one point, Ziomek’s youngest son was racing his BMX bike in Naples when he crashed and broke his elbow. Transported to the hospital by CCEMS, Ziomek called Williamson to commend the EMS employees for their efforts in helping his son.

“Lo and behold, she said, ‘Jeff, guess what we’re trying to do? We’re trying to get this paramedic program up and running in Collier County. Would you be willing to give us a hand in getting this up and running,’” he said.

Working at FSW at the time, he told Williamson he would be happy to provide them with guidance in whatever they needed. Within a few short months, Ramsay contacted him about the program, and after discussions with Ramsay and Griz, Ziomek joined Hodges’ faculty in January 2017.

Using his knowledge and experience, Ziomek worked closely with individuals at CCEMS to determine the curriculum for the paramedic certification program, most especially, Dr. Robert Tober, medical director for CCEMS.

“There are requirements from the state the medical director must approve such as our curriculum, hours of classes and face to face hours. He also has to be available for student assessments. He basically serves as the overseer of the program,” Ziomek explained.

Students of this program will have the opportunity to experience the full circle of an emergency call, from someone dialing 911, to time in the ambulance, to time in the hospital.

Set to launch in May 2017, the 42-credit hour program will be offered to individuals employed with CCEMS and fire districts, and will provide students with the knowledge and entry-level skills to become a paramedic. Graduates will be eligible to sit for the State of Florida certificate examination upon completion of the program.

According to the program description, “Students are prepared for careers in pre-hospital emergency medicine, which enables graduates to be employed as field paramedics in a variety of settings, such as fire-rescue departments, public and private ambulance services, aero-medical services, hospitals and police departments.”

Able to accommodate 24 students, the program is designed to serve as an “A” shift-friendly program. Ziomek explains this advantage by saying, “‘A’ shift runs every third day, which means these students will have every third day off. The advantage is, unlike other schools, these students will not have to take time off, take personal time or have someone cover their shift, which is a scheduling nightmare.”

In partnership with CCEMS, students will attend on-campus lectures at Hodges and laboratory instruction at CCEMS. In addition, students will participate in hospital clinical and ambulance internships.

CCEMS training tool

Training Mannequin

Another advantage to the program is the opportunity for students to perform labs at the CCEMS site. Housing a training facility, it is equipped with all of the necessary tools students need to receive hands-on training. Noemi Fraguela, deputy chief of training at CCEMS, explained that some of the skills students will learn while in the training facility include working on airways, learning how to intubate, starting IVs, giving medications, performing patient assessment, learning and reading electrocardiograms (EKGs) and more.

Apart from the in-class lecture and lab instruction, students must complete an internship consisting of 360 hours, which is to be completed at CCEMS. “Students will be required to complete ride time, which means they will ride on the ambulance, work with patients, and assist the on-duty paramedic and EMTs who are working that 911 call,” Williamson explained. “In addition, they will be required to complete hospital time. They will go into the emergency room and different departments and see how the whole thing evolves from someone dialing 911, to time in the ambulance, to time in the hospital. They get to see the full circle of what happens.”

“The individuals at Collier County EMS know at the end of 12 months they will have field-ready paramedics. Because their employees have become adjuncts for us, the way Collier County EMS runs its particular agency is the way these students will be taught,” Ziomek added.

Looking to the future, Ziomek’s goal is to one day have an open cohort consisting of EMT and paramedic students; however, the overarching goal is to create an Associate in Science in emergency services. Transferring the 42 credits earned during the certification course, students would then need to complete any remaining general education courses in order to complete their associate degree at Hodges.

“Imagine how this could flow. We bring a student here who completes the 42-hour paramedic certificate program, who then goes on to complete our 62-credit hour associate program. It opens up so many opportunities for these students to continue their education.”

To learn more about Hodges’ paramedic certification program, contact Jeffrey Ziomek at jziomek@hodges.edu.