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From the field to the office: new Oregon Tech program offers EMS professionals a choice

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Second-year Oregon Tech paramedic students give CPR and other treatment to a simulated heart attack patient, part of the training that will one day allow them to earn state certification as paramedics. Oregon Tech is known for the quality of its engineering education.

But many in the public may not be aware that the university also offers a high quality para-medicine training program in partnership with the Oregon Health and Science University. That partnership actually stretches back to 1977, when the program was started as an offshoot of the medical training offered by OHSU.

These days, Oregon Tech is taking that program and partnership and moving it to the next level. The university has long offered a two-year associate degree for paramedics. Now, it has become one of just 14 institutions in the United States to offer a four-year bachelor’s degree in emergency medical services management.

“Most industries have this thing that they suffer from,” said Jamie Kennel, a paramedic with America Medical Response, assistant professor with OHSU and program director of Oregon Tech’s paramedic education program. “If you’re a good — fill in the blank — you get promoted to management. It’s often a common sequence in industries, and it is prone to all kinds of problems; there’s no training at all, and in this space that is very much the pattern. I’m a paramedic myself, and that shouldn’t be the way it’s done, there’s a better way to handle it.”

The new bachelor’s program takes the existing paramedic education curriculum and adds extensive management and business curriculum that will help prepare degree holders for a long-term career in emergency medicine at the management or even ownership level.

There are three core pieces to the degree. One is more advanced clinical training, with coursework in two options, critical care or community care training. The second is general management curriculum, including microeconomics, marketing, human resources, organizational behavior and other topics. The third piece is the management functions particular to emergency medicine.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Oregon Tech paramedic students respond to a simulated patient suffering from chest pain. Here, the patient in the wheelchair sits in his living room on the Oregon Tech Wilsonville campus as the students work on him. Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue EMS Division Chief Mark Stevens is in charge of emergency medical training for the state’s largest EMS agency. He’s also a long-time educator and teaches for both Oregon Tech and OHSU. He said the latter two institutions have a long and established track record of placing graduates with TVF&R and other agencies.

“Anecdotally, I know we’ve had a lot of our OIT grads rise rapidly through the ranks here and be quite successful,” Stevens said. “And that’s back when it was a two-year program.”

The agency won’t be picking people to send, to the management course, but will encourage employees to attend. He said TVF&R already reimburses those who earn degrees, and the new degree will be no different.

“The bachelor piece is really going to help prepare people not just to be paramedics,” he said, “but for the rapid changes that are going on in EMS with mobile healthcare and community para-medicine.”

According to Kennel, the addition of a four-year degree to existing offerings at Oregon Tech was brought up more than a decade ago by EMS industry leaders but never took hold for a variety of reason.

“It never got off the ground,” he said.

Kennel took over at Oregon Tech as the paramedic education program director several years ago with this concept still in mind. But it has taken that much time to institute the changes needed to make it work.

“Change is administratively difficult because we are part of the Oregon University system of schools,” he said. “So you have to argue and pitch your case to all of them so that there’s not a lot of overlap.”

That took more than a year to complete. But the management course was formally unveiled last fall, and the vast majority of the curriculum is now complete.

“We’re rolling it out in phases,” Kennel said. “We have students that are freshmen and we have sophomores, so we could officially start students this fall.”

Both Kennel and Stevens said the new course is timely because of ongoing changes in emergency medicine.

Under current practice in Oregon and other states, for example, EMS first-responders have only the option of transporting a patient to the nearest hospital emergency room.

“This is changing rapidly right now,” Kennel said. “I worked a shift yesterday for example, and we had 10 calls in 12 hours. It was the traditional makeup of those calls, and eight of 10 were non-emergent; you could make a strong argument it’s not an appropriate use of the system.”

Many EMS professionals would like to change this to allow them to offer treatment to the many non-emergency calls they end up responding to.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Oregon Tech paramedic students work on a sim, or simulated emergency situation at the universitys Wilsonville campus. Afterward, they were debriefed on the simulation by instructors who pointed out both where they went wrong and what they did right. Part of this is caused by the insurance-based health care system America has in place; those without insurance normally wait until otherwise preventable problems turn into emergencies before seeking treatment because of the high costs.

Under new practices that are emerging, however, paramedics could one day offer at least a modicum of on-the-spot basic care to patients who call for help but are not truly suffering from an emergency.

Other differences are found in the educational process.

“In some ways, the pre-hospital space is about a decade behind nursing,” Kennel said. “From an educational standpoint, nursing started with a two-year RN degree and as the industry got more professional the specializations started to come about and more advanced education started to happen.”

That’s exactly what Stevens and other EMS professionals want to see happen.

“It looks like a well-rounded background in things like research, good, ethical patient-based research,” Stevens said. “And it gives them a foundation for both EMS-specific management and then general principles that you’d get in a management degree in any college; so it puts those two together.”

A four-year degree is something Stevens said would have been handy when he was a freshly minted paramedic in the 1980s.

“I didn’t have one around when I came up,” he said. “So I built a lot of the same pieces together myself.”

After earning his paramedic certification, Stevens eventually attended a University of Kansas program to earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and relationships that has served him well. Now, other paramedics will have an easier time doing the same thing in one spot.

“They can get experience and get specific management training in EMS and they were not able to do this before,” Stevens said.

At a glance:

Oregon Tech/OHSU

EMS Education:

Classes offered at Oregon Tech's Wilsonville campus include the EMT-Basic education program; Paramedic AAS degree program and the new bachelor of science degree program in EMS Management. This is the only university level paramedic program in Oregon.

An information session will be held June 2 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Wilsonville campus.

For more information, call 503-821-1250 or visit oit.edu/wilsonville.



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