Ahhh, High School. The classes, the lockers, the bells, the peer pressure, the parties, the immaturity, the congestive heart failure, the overdoses, the emergent response, the…
I’ve been hearing a lot recently about Emergency Medical Technician training being held in High Schools (9th – 12th grades) with teenage high school students being trained to be EMTs. At first blush, it actually seems like an innovative way for communities to meet the EMS staffing shortage problem head-on. In addition, it would seem to be a great way to get young people interested in EMS. In fact, THIS ARTICLE posted recently by Zoll EMS&Fire on their Facebook page seemed like a good idea to me at first. A county partnered with a technical high school in order to train new EMTs to swell the rosters of their county’s services. It’s gotta be a good idea? Right?
I have been hearing about such things for a while now and even spoke about it with Tiger Schmittendorf on the March edition of the Firefighter Netcast, however I didn’t give it very much thought until I read the “Last Word” section of JEMS Magazine in what I believe was the March 2010 issue (although I can’t find it anywhere on their web site www.jems.com). It talked about our friends in Darien Connecticut that run Post 53 EMS, a service that is staffed and ran almost entirely by high school students. I was a bit peeved after I read that. Then yesterday when I read the article about the service in Sussex County, I got just plain mad. I don’t agree with this at all. In fact, even though I might have been for it without thinking it through, now I am coming out completely against it.
There, I’ve said it. I am against beginning Emergency Medical Technician training in high school and I am most certainly against persons under the age of 18 staffing ambulances. I also must strongly condemn persons under the age of eighteen responding to emergencies, operating emergency vehicles, or taking responsibility for professional level patient care.
Look at the words there and understand just how much I condemn the actions of the politicians and officials that permit this. You are endangering the public, harming the profession of EMS, and creating a systemic negative impact on patient care throughout the system. You run the chance of increasing patient morbidity and mortality, run the risk of getting teenagers injured and/or killed on an emergency scene, and are exposing youth to situations that they cannot possibly be experienced enough to understand.
I am fully aware that the above paragraph is inflammatory and I am aware that the proponents of these situations are not going to like what I have said, but that doesn’t make it less true. Look for a minute beyond the arguments that you are going to make about the kids themselves, who I am sure are all upstanding young citizens who are surely beyond reproach. Look for a minute even beyond the fact that evaluation of the kids themselves must be taken on “a case by case basis” as I’ve heard before when this issue is argued. T o be certain, there are kids that are capable of functioning to the EMT-Basic level with proper, adult, professional supervision… However, I want to know why there is a perceived need?
The communities that support and offer these plans where students are trained to the EMT level and especially those communities where persons under the age of 18 are active emergency responders generally purport to be offering these plans in order to combat a “shortage” of trained emergency responders. This is where my biggest grievance lies. This “shortage” of which they speak is manufactured. It’s false, and it’s created by the very attitude that causes the local political powers to think that a program that provides a consistent stream of young, inexperienced, naive EMTs who are willing to work just for the “excitement”, “honor”, and “cool factor” that these programs seem to offer is a good idea. Here’s the thing, these communities don’t have a shortage of adult, professional EMTs who are willing to do the job. They have a shortage of adult, professional EMTs who are willing to work for peanuts in a system that has no respect for what they do.
Get it? If you have such little respect for EMS and the EMTs that provide it that you are comfortable letting teenage kids work your trucks, you obviously have such little respect for EMS that you provide horrible pay and working conditions to the point where no self-respecting adult can make a living on the wages and conditions you offer them. There’s no shortage of EMTs willing to provide excellent EMS. There’s a shortage of pay and professional respect that causes them not to be able to survive working the available jobs. Trust me, if these communities paid better and provided better jobs there would be no shortage of EMTs. It’s manufactured by their willingness to just have someone with a pulse and an EMT card on their trucks. It’s manufactured by their thought process that EMS is simply childs’ play and that since “any idiot can do it” they might as well put kids on the trucks. The EMT shortage has always been created by lack of pay, poor working conditions, and an unwillingness of local politicians to provide adequate amounts of these things. Creating high-school EMT programs reinforce this by always providing a stream of fresh meat willing to work for nothing. Young people don’t worry about such things as pay high enough to support a family, nor do they care so much about things like insurance, benefits, or retirement plans. They just want to get out there and go to work.
I make the argument that putting inexperienced high-schoolers on ambulances increases morbidity and mortality using my experience as an experienced long time paramedic. I offer the full body of research that proves that experienced healthcare providers provide better healthcare than do inexperienced ones. The fact that there’s such little research out there does not diminish the fact that you have no such research that shows safety in what you do. I say that your communities would be better served by adult, professional, well compensated providers. I say that they would save more lives and reduce more suffering than do your high-school kids. It is well known that patients have better outcomes when they trust their healthcare provider and you ask your patients to put their trust in high school students. There are many possible scenarios out there where the patient’s very life and/or death rest upon the skilled interventions provided by an EMT. In these situations, even experienced providers make mistakes. You’re telling me that the incidence of these mistakes will not be unacceptably higher using teenagers?
When your Wife, Son, Husband, Daughter, or friend is lying there, dying on the floor, the roadway, or on the cot, will you feel comfortable with your decision to put a high school student at their side to be in charge of their continued comfortable survival? I make the charge that you will not. Your community members do not need a child coming to them in their hour of highest need. They need a professional, adult provider and your system denies them this.
I support EMS education in high schools. I support explorer programs that give firsthand experience and education to teenagers and younger students. I support CPR and First Aid Training at any age. I will support students coming to the EMS station, cleaning the trucks, taking classes with the crews, learning about EMS, and even staffing first-aid stations and special events under the watchful eye of an experienced adult provider. I do not support students responding in ambulances for the reasons I’ve stated above… but in closing I also offer this:
In one of the articles above, someone stated that these programs prepare students for a career in the emergency medical services. They might. However, by their very existence they prepare students for a career in a low-wage, low respect industry that might as well be provided by teenagers. These programs are a slap in the face to our profession. We will never advance when mindsets like these are allowed to propagate and flourish