College’s paramedic program continues strong tradition

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published March 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 8, 2013 at 1:24 p.m.
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Students in the EMT-Paramedic program at Arkansas State University-Searcy are, front row, from the left, Troupe Bryant and Colin Schorgl; middle row, from the left, Tabitha Hendrickson, Deb Wilson and Joe Potts; and back row, from the left, Kyle Myers, Charles Simmons, Justin Allen and Bryan Stallings.

The paramedic program at Arkansas State University-Searcy got a boost recently when it was given another five years of accreditation.

The program, which was originally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs in 2008, is the only one in Arkansas that offers its program through night classes.

While emergency medical technicians and paramedics are both part of emergency medical services, paramedics go through more advanced training. When students graduate from the Searcy program, they take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. A student must pass the exam to work as a paramedic in Arkansas. Starting in 2013, students must graduate from an accredited program such as the one at ASU-Searcy in order to qualify for the exam.

“The accreditation status of the paramedic program allows graduates to be recognized as being from an institution that meets the highest level of national academic standards,” Patt Cope, program director and instructor, said in a news release. “It is quite an achievement.”

Students in the Searcy program must be licensed as EMTs before they begin classes, which start in the fall. The program currently has 10 students enrolled, down from more than 15 when the semester began.

“It’s a very taxing program,” Cope said. “You have class three nights a week from 5-10 p.m., then 300 hours of clinical rotations in a hospital setting and 300 hours in an ambulance service. They basically have to tell their families goodbye for more than a year.”

Justin Allen, a Searcy resident and a student in the program, said the night classes have helped allow him to keep working as an EMT with NorthStar EMS.

“I wanted a good foundation of the academic, technical and the real-life experience,” Allen said. “It’s great to have a program where someone like me can work and go to school.”

Cabot resident Tabitha Hendrickson was drawn to work with EMS after her daughter died from complications following the chemotherapy treatments she was taking for leukemia.

“I felt helpless,” Hendrickson said. “I didn’t know how to step in. I wouldn’t want anyone else to be in that position.”

Hendrickson became an EMT in June and started her classes to become a paramedic at ASU-Searcy last fall.

“It’s just an undying need to help others,” Hendrickson said. “EMS is a way of life, and not really a job.”

Though she had a husband and kids at home, Hendrickson said that figuring out a balance between her school work and home hasn’t been too hard.

“My husband doesn’t mind coming home and doing the dishes or laundry; he knows I’m passionate about what I do,” Hendrickson said.

Though she had at first thought about pursuing a degree in nursing, Hendrickson eventually chose to become a paramedic for the chance to work outside a hospital every day.

“You get to do a lot of community education and outreach,” Hendrickson said. “It’s not the same thing every day; there’s always something new. We’re not stuck in the four corners of a hospital where you might not see the light until shift change.”

Like Allen, Hendrickson hopes to get a job with NorthStar EMS after she gets her license. Hendrickson worked with the staff at NorthStar during her EMT training and works with them now through ASU-Searcy.

“They’re like a big family to us now,” she said. “They’re willing to help us and take time out of their days to teach us new things. It’s like having a big brother or dad around.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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