Is an Accelerated Paramedic Program a Good Idea?

Individuals seeking a career as a paramedic may now utilize the option of an accelerated paramedic program. The new programs offer shorter classroom training, as little as 12 weeks, and has become a topic of come debate that has brought forth valid points on both sides of the conversation.

Many individuals do appear to agree, however, that these accelerated courses are not highly regarded in general by professional establishments. But before an individual, or establishment, can begin to formulate an educated opinion regarding accelerated programs, it is essential to understand the differences between traditional paramedic programs and these new classroom experiences.

Ultimately, the final decision will remain with the individual as to which path is right for his or her training, education and professional needs while working towards a career in emergency response.

Understanding Paramedic Education

One of the primary concerns when discussing an accelerated program is whether or not the individual can receive a proper education in the shortened time span for didactic learning. Most accelerated programs consist of only 12 weeks classroom education, which has initiated concern among students and professionals.

Critics of the program insist that it is impossible for any individual to receive the correct education to safely perform job functions in an emergency situation, while others point out that an individual completing the paramedic program has already gained experience in the EMS field through education and training as a licensed EMT.

Regardless of the amount of time spent in classroom and field training, all individuals wishing to pursue a career in the field of paramedics must complete the final examination and gain licensing in their respective state utilizing the same testing procedure. Supporters of accelerated programs state that this indicates an individual must still demonstrate that they have mastered the correct skills during testing, and those individuals that cannot pass will have to continue working until they are prepared to correctly preform job duties.

While critics state that the 12 week training programs are simply teaching students to take a test rather than mastery of the required knowledge–which accounts for the high success rates the shortened classroom times have indicated thus far–there is no evidence to support this claim.

Similar Prerequisites

As the highest level of EMT certification, the decision to become a paramedic requires a degree of dedication to the medical professional by the student. In order to enroll in any form of a paramedic training program, the individual must first become a certified EMT-B, which will require classroom training in combination with approximately 120 to 150 hours of field experience.

These paramedic programs, typically offered through most community colleges, universities and private employers, often require that the individual has worked in the field as an EMT for a minimum of six months before qualifying to attend, which entails that the majority of individuals pursuing a paramedic certification already have some classroom and field experience relevant to emergency response.

The student will learn a variety of emergency response care for patients during training that will include:

  • Administration of IV fluids
  • Injections
  • Medications
  • Advanced Respiratory procedures
  • All duties performed as an EMT; treating wounds, performing CPR, patient assessments and even assisting in child birth

This is an indication that those individuals enrolling in the accelerated programs already have some experience, both classroom and in field training, in the areas of emergency response and patient care.

In most cases the accelerated programs require individuals to have the same prerequisite levels of experience, as well as hold a valid EMT license as their traditional classroom counterparts. So while debate continues on the level of quality education that individuals receive by attending a 12 week program, all individuals enrolled in either traditional or accelerated programs enter the environment pre-equipped with a basic level of training.

Passing the Paramedic License Examination

Once all requirements for classroom and field training have been met, the individual must then complete the state’s licensing examination. This examination, administered by the NREMT, consists of both a cognitive and psychomotor portion in which both must be passed in order to become licensed as a Paramedic.

The NREMT also requires that the student has completed an accredited paramedic course before taking the examination, though there are no specifications on the amount of time these training programs are required to take for completion. Critics of accelerated education state that the 12 week programs are simply teaching students to take this examination, rather than the advanced knowledge they will need to safely preform in the field.

However, the examination has been developed to assure that any individual, regardless of the time devoted to training, wishing to become licensed can demonstrate a mastery of the necessary skills for safe, effective performance in the field. In addition, all students preparing for the examination are recommended by the NREMT to devote at least six months of self-study before taking the exam.

The NREMT suggests that individuals wishing to take this examination devote several months or longer of study time in preparation for passing the examination, which is in addition to any time already spent in didactic environments.

Separate study and learning materials for examination preparation are available online through a variety of sources and some areas offer separate classroom training that is devoted to examination preparation. This separate education, which does teach students to take the test, is utilized by both individuals that acquire traditional length educational courses and accelerated ones.

The self-study is in addition to the time already spent in classroom and field training to fully prepare for testing and therefore it can be stated that even those individuals spending the shortened time in accelerated classrooms will also devote an additional amount of time to studying for the examination, increasing the total study hours by up to several months. The rigorous test is designed to evaluate the individual’s educational and hands-on skills necessary to safely perform patient care during emergency situations and will include two sections:

Cognitive exam is a computer adaptive test, or CAT, typically consisting of between 80 and 150 questions in which the student will have 2 hours 30 minutes to complete. The exam covers a broad spectrum of patient care that will include; airway, respiration and ventilation, trauma, medical and obstetrics. Cardiology and resuscitation and EMS operations.

Psychomotor Examination is a separate section presented in a scenario-type setting. This portion is designed to evaluate the individual’s hands on abilities to practice emergency medical care, covering 12 separate skill sets that the National EMS Education Standards have designated as necessary to safely provide out-of-hospital patient care. This includes such skills as performance of a head-to-toe physical examination of a patient and an ability to perform ventilator management. In addition, such skills as cardiac management (Dynamic and Static), IV and Medication abilities, oral station, pediatric and random basic skills will also be evaluated during testing.

Traditional vs Accelerated Educational Environment

The traditional environment for a paramedic education varies slightly depending on whether or not the individual has elected to receive a full two-year degree or simply prepare for the examination. On average, traditional students devote 1 to 2 years in a combination of classroom education, internships, field experience and some clinical experience.

Individuals learn all of the necessary skills required to safely work in a fast-paced environment, typically the first response team to any medical emergency, and provide a variety of patient care. These students learn, over the course of years, how to administer such care as IV maintenance, how to administer medications, take vitals, cardiovascular and even some gynecology.

Individuals are trained to handle a variety of patients including adults, elderly and pediatrics in a variety of emergency situations. Scenarios are discussed in the classroom concerning how to properly respond to such emergencies as fires, floods or other natural disasters, health failures at home and in public as well as many other situations in which a paramedic will be necessary.

In addition to classroom education, students will be expected to complete an internship which will introduce them to the concepts learned in a clinical environment for hands-on learning. Those choosing to graduate with a degree may also be required to fulfill other educational obligations, such as algebra and basic courses in general education that the institution will require.

Accelerated environments differ in several ways from traditional education. The didactic training consists of a 12 week course which is more intense than the education received that is spread out of the course of years. Typically, those institutions offering the 12 week programs expect students to attend classroom courses 40 hours per week in order to cover the material necessary. These students are educated in the same areas of emergency care, patient care and how to safely preform job functions as traditional students, only in a shorter period of time.

Scenarios in which a paramedic would be necessary are also discussed with these students and include the same proper procedures. Once the student has completed the 12 week classroom experience successfully, they must also meet the requirements of field and clinical training. The amount of hands-on training required to pass the course includes 230 or more hours of clinical training and 200 or more hours of field experience, which is similar to the requirements for traditional students. So while the time period required to complete training in an accelerated program is much shorter, the amount of hours spent in classroom and during field experience are the same as traditional programs.

Some institutions offering the more intense accelerated programs require the student to live in an on-campus facility for the 12 week accelerated education, but allow the individual the option to complete the field experience either through the same program or return home to locate internship opportunities independently.

The Positive Aspects of Accelerated Programs

While the intense education received from an accelerated program is not the best option for every individual wishing to become a licensed paramedic, there are many types of medical professionals that in fact benefit from this new program. Many of the individuals choosing to pursue a further education and become a paramedic first elected to spend some years working as an EMT before making the decision to continue.

These individuals have already devoted the classroom time and training to become a certified EMT and have spent several additional years working in the field of emergency medical care. There are many reasons these individuals choose to become a paramedic after spending time as a certified EMT, including a desire to increase skills and income, and may already possess enough education and hands-on experience to thrive in an accelerated program.

Other individuals that may benefit from accelerated learning would include those individuals who have already completed a nursing degree and wish to take the examination and become a certified paramedic. On the ladder, individuals that have recently completed the EMT certification and possess little training in the field may find that the intense, rapid learning process in the accelerated programs are not a good fit and may struggle to keep up with the learning experience.

This makes the choice to attend a traditional or accelerated program an individual and very personal decision.

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