By Kurt Ibaraki
“Hey, hey, pretty exciting stuff today guys!” From the beginning of August until the day before school started, these words signaled the beginning of a new, didactic lecture. Instructors from the California Institute of Emergency Medical Technicians (CIEMT) partnered up with EMSC, a student-run organization of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT-B), to provide a three week long EMT-B certification class here at USC. This three week long course consisted of 11 fifteen hour sessions, covering a variety of topics such as patient assessment, trauma, cardiovascular emergencies, respiratory emergencies, and neurological emergencies.
As an aspiring pre-med student, I realized that becoming an EMT would give me direct exposure to the medical field. While most people think of EMTs as the people who drive ambulances, EMTs actually do much more than that. They are one of the first medical responders on the scene, providing both efficient and immediate care to their patients. Being able to adapt to any situation, as well as being able to communicate and treat the patient in the most appropriate manner, are all crucial skills required to work in the field.
The biggest mistake I made was walking into the first day of class not knowing what to expect. After a small introduction, our main instructor, Matt Goodman, made it clear that this class would be like nothing we would ever experience. I, like many of my other classmates, had doubts about the difficulty. Most of us were pre-med. We all knew the struggles of difficult classes. But, like Matt said, this was different. Matt would cold call, meaning he’d randomly direct a question to one unlucky student at any point in time and expect that student to know the answer. If a student didn’t know the answer… Matt would yell. He was really good at striking fear and angst into everyone the moment he started to ask questions. He had the uncanny ability to instantly flip the switch from being an genial instructor to a military general. Everything we did or said was wrong to him. And yet, at the same time, I realized that Matt yelled at us because real life EMTs have to endure an immense amount of pressure; there’s nothing more stressful than the responsibility of saving someone’s life. He yelled at us so that we would be prepared for a high pressure environment.
The normal day consisted of sitting in an all-day class, studying when I got home, sleeping between 12am-1am, and getting up at 6:30 a.m to repeat the process. During this time, along with our enlightening lectures, we had 3 skills days where we were familiarized with all of the equipment and had practice scenarios. We practiced taking vital signs (blood pressure, respiratory rate, etc), running our patient assessments, and working with splints, and spinal immobilization. While the amount of information that we had to learn was overwhelming, I was amazed by the amount of things I was able to recall within that span of time. They always had a pneumonic device or an association that would help us remember everything. For example, we were told that epiglottitis is a bacterial infection and we could easily remember this by associating the word pig in epiglottitis with the fact that pigs produce bacon, a word that shares the first three letters with bacteria. BACon, BACteria. While this strategy seems rather silly, it definitely gets the job done.
On top of these course requirements, we also had to complete 24 hours of ride-alongs. I chose to ride-along with Lynch Ambulance in Anaheim and the experience was something I will never forget. Lynch Ambulance is an interfacility transport ambulance company, which prioritizes transporting patients from one location to another. Most of our calls required us to transport patients to dialysis centers, and vice versa. During these eleven hour shifts, I was able to contribute to the team by taking vital signs and talking to the patients. This experience helped me gain a better understanding of the job as an EMT and see firsthand the professionals’ amazing ability to comfort their patients with ease and grace. They were able to think on their feet and make every patient feel as comfortable as they could.
After three weeks of hectic learning, it was time for us to prove that we were able to apply everything we learned. On the last day, we had a 150 question multiple choice exam, as well as a skills final. Due to the excellent instructors, the multiple choice exam was easy.
However, that was the part we were all expected to pass. The skills final was where most students were expected to fail. The skills final consisted of four scenario-based emergencies. They involved an emergency childbirth, CPR, a medical trial, and a trauma emergency. After dedicating weeks of hard work and perseverance to this class, I was not about to fail the final. By running my assessment carefully, as well as being completely aware of everything going on, I was able to pass the class.
In retrospect, taking the CIEMT certification class truly was something I had never before experienced, but it wasn’t over yet. In order to actually become an EMT, I also had to pass another test, the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) after I completed the certification course. While the test was supposed to be difficult, this turned out to be pretty easy for me, most likely due to the superior training I received from Matt Goodman and the rest of the CIEMT team. The challenge that this course presented, as well as the foundation and knowledge gained, is something I will remember and use during my time as an EMT. While I have not yet put my new certification to use, I am currently a part of EMSC, and I hope to find a job with an ambulance company sometime in the near future.
Featured image by Roman Fox on Unsplash
Kurt is a Junior majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Health Care Studies. He was born in Los Angeles, but moved to Yorba Linda. Kurt loves to meet new people and learn about their unique stories. In his free time, Kurt loves to go to the gym, play basketball, dragonboat, and watch TV.