By Nathan Prewett
For the Tribune
TRUSSVILLE — Using a lab area to simulate emergency situations, 15 Hewitt-Trussville High School seniors busied themselves in an emergency medical training class taught by Aaron Nafziger. The class is to prepare students interested in paramedic services and other healthcare-related career paths.
“We’re learning valuable clinical skills that we need to know to go into the healthcare field,” said Anthony Knight, 18, an HTHS student. “This is an entry level job but it gives us a leg up in terms of having the basic knowledge before going into med school or wherever we decide to go in the healthcare field.”
A class on Feb. 26 had 15 HTHS students checking off on “certain clinical skills” as part of their training required by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians’ certifying body. The skills covered different bases like hemorrhage control, long bone immobilization, oxygen administration, use of a bag valve mask, cardiac arrest management, CPR, cervical spine packaging.
“They also have some more advanced skills that we wrap into scenario-based training,” Nafziger said. “So they’ll do some assessments both for medical and trauma patients and when we do those medical assessments check offs we integrate all of the other skills into that. So it’s almost like a simulated patient encounter where they assess and manage the patient from start to finish.”
This is the third year for the class at HTHS. Nafziger was the program director for the paramedic training program at Jefferson State when the class was piloted at Spain Park High School. Nafziger said that Jefferson State is working to implement the program to six other schools in the state. He teaches the EMT program at HTHS full-time now.
“I was excited about the opportunity to work here,” he said. “I love the environment. I love the kids. I have four children in the school system myself, so it’s a great opportunity for me to be around my new kids.”
HTHS Academy Coordinator Joy Walker said that the students get dual enrollment grants through Jefferson State Community College. This year there were grants for 15 slots in the class. Walker said that the college has doubled the number of grants for slots next year, allowing 30 students to take part. The time that the students spend in this class will count as college credits, Nafziger said.
“It’s actually a pretty rigorous program,” he said. “The EMT course is actually two different courses at Jefferson State. One is just clinical rotations and the other course is all of the didactics and lab stuff. It’s ten credit hours altogether. If you compare the traditional college courses, your English 101 classes and stuff like that, are typically three credit hours. So this is the equivalent of three college classes. It takes a big commitment from the students.”
Nafziger said that several years ago, the Alabama State Department of Education began making efforts to focus on career technical training in schools. He said that it included a bond issue “for capital improvements for program” and that a legislation was later passed to fund dual enrollment fees and tuition.
“Every year there’s now money that’s available just for career tech dual enrollment in the high schools,” he said. “This is an example of one of the programs that are taking the initiative and trying to meet that need. When I was a director at Jeff State there was a deficit of paramedics and EMTs in Alabama. We’ve had a shortage for a long time.”
Nafziger said that the shortage of EMT’s is caused by different factors. He described emergency medical services as being a relatively new profession as it stems from the government establishing a way to respond to highway emergencies in the 1970s. It is considered by some to be an entry level job dominated by younger people that tend to move on to other positions in the medical field or elsewhere.
Another factor in the shortage is emotional and physical toll on paramedics as they respond to people in dire situations.
“The life expectancy of a paramedic in the field is about ten years,” Nafziger said. “Most people don’t work as a paramedic for more than ten years just because of the strains physically, mentally and emotionally. What happens is that it becomes sort of a gateway for a lot of people who maybe don’t really know what they want to do. They know they want to help other people so they’ll move into this career field and then a lot of them will move out into higher level jobs.”
Many go into nursing after serving as paramedics. Others go on to professional schools to be assistants for physicians or study to get into physical therapy as a career. Nafziger said that most professional healthcare-related schools now have a requirement for applicants to have a minimum of clinical hours. Emergency medical services can count as clinical hours for those looking to get into the medical field.
“A lot of us are doing this course to get clinical knowledge and experience,” said HTHS senior, Clair King, 17, “It’s expanding what we know and we’re going to hopefully take this and just keep running.”
Nafziger said that Jefferson State gives students in the program $2,000 scholarships from career tech funds to cover books, uniforms and
fees. Students are seniors selected by ACT scores “with GPA as a tie-breaker”. With Jefferson State doubling the slots, he will be able to teach two classes next year as opposed to just the one he’s currently teaching.
Nafziger has been able to keep up with former students who have benefited from the class at the high school. Some of them are not only currently working toward nursing and pre-med degrees but also working in those fields.
“That’s the goal of this program for our students is not just to give them that certification to make them an EMT,” he said. “It’s to give them that certification early so that they have a leg up ahead of everyone else.”