Saving Lives: The many benefits of being a paramedic

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Few jobs require life-saving abilities, but for paramedics, it’s all part of a rewarding day’s work. As the leader of the pre-hospital team, the highly-skilled paramedic directs the care delivered by basic EMTs and first responders, performing life-saving skills and transporting patients to medical facilities.

Individuals seeking careers in this exciting field can find their future at CCAC’s Boyce Campus. Set to graduate its first class in May, CCAC’s Paramedic Associate of Science degree program prepares individuals for employment as advanced life support providers and for advancement into supervisory roles, as well as for continuing education. It is the only program of its kind in Allegheny County.

CCAC also offers a Paramedic Certificate program, which prepares individuals for career advancement from an emergency medical technician (EMT) to entry-level employment as a paramedic. Progression to the Paramedic Associate Degree program is possible for all students who complete the Paramedic Certificate program. Applicants to both programs must be certified EMTs.

CCAC Paramedic programRick Allison, dean of Academic Affairs at Boyce Campus, believes a paramedic must possess a good education. “It’s a matter of life and death,” Allison said. “Paramedics can do so much to save your life before you’re brought to a hospital.”

Having a degree is becoming a must to advance in the field, due to an increasing level of expertise required in the job. According to Neil Jones, associate professor and director of the Paramedic program, “The care you’re getting by a paramedic now is very close to what you’re getting in the ER.”

Students enrolled in the program benefit from a new “state-of-the-science” laboratory for hands-on learning, which includes a fully equipped ambulance, interactive human-body models and all of the equipment commonly used in the field. The lab features a simulated emergency room and a small apartment designed to replicate a residential rescue.

Using simulation models, students can practice starting IVs, performing airway interventions, inserting catheters, decompressing the chest, giving injections and more. The realistic models simulate breathing, pulse, heart and lung sounds—they can even “talk” through a computer program or an instructor speaking into a microphone.

“The care you’re getting by a paramedic now is very close to what you’re getting in the ER.”
—Neil Jones, associate professor & director, CCAC Paramedic program

Students also have the opportunity to engage in externships with EMS services, where mentors evaluate and supervise student work, ensuring students acquire all the necessary skills. Graduates are eligible to take the credential examination of the National Registry of EMTs to become nationally registered paramedics. This credential is recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Health for state certification.

EMTs and paramedics should have physical and emotional strength and stamina, as well as interpersonal, communication and critical thinking skills.


Employment & wage predictions

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paramedics is expected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022. The median annual wage of EMTs is $32,113* and for paramedics it is $39,904.** The aging baby-boomer population likely will spur an increase in medical emergencies outside of inpatient health care facilities, which will increase the demand for full-time paid paramedics.


Student Success Story
Award-winning student achieves her lifelong goal

Shelley Spaw

Shelley Spaw

Shelley Spaw always wanted to be a paramedic.

At 17, she became certified as a basic EMT, but she chose not to pursue the career at that age, so she worked in various jobs. After being laid off, she decided to go back to school and finish what she started years ago. She will graduate in May with a Paramedic Associate of Science degree—and she has already been hired as a full-time paramedic with the Canonsburg Ambulance Service.

The Canonsburg EMS got a good idea of Spaw’s qualifications during her externship with the service last summer. During a training shift, she and her supervisor responded to a car accident. While tending to the medical needs of the two occupants, they learned the women were traveling from West Virginia to Pittsburgh when they had become lost.

They had been trying to get to Mercy Hospital where a relative of the women had been transported to undergo open heart surgery. Spaw told the anxious women that she would drive them to the hospital in her personal vehicle.

“The women were super grateful,” she recalled. “I would want someone to do the same for me.”

As a result of her actions, she was honored with an Allegheny County Emergency Medical Services Council EMS Champion Award at the council’s annual meeting in June 2014. “It means a lot,” said Spaw. “I want to be the best paramedic I can possibly be.”

She credits her professors and advisors at CCAC with preparing her well. “Everyone has been great. I have a lot of respect and gratitude for the program and for the people who helped me along the way.”

Spaw especially enjoyed training on the “really cool technology” in CCAC’s new Prism Health Services Paramedic Laboratory. “It makes me feel good that CCAC is investing in my future.”

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