When a paramedic unit responds to a call on the Mid-Shore there’s a good chance the medics on board have a strong connection to the Emergency Medical Services program run cooperatively by Chesapeake College and University of Maryland Shore Regional Health.
Originally begun by the Memorial Hospital at Easton -- with Chesapeake College’s involvement added in the early 1990s -- the now joint EMS program educates and trains the majority of emergency medical technicians and paramedics working in the region.
“It’s very rewarding to have so many home-grown professionals provide services and give back to the community,” said Scott Wheatley, Assistant Chief, Queen Anne’s County Emergency Medical Services Division. “About 20 of our current full-time paramedics have gone through the program, in addition to some part-time help.”
That includes Wheatley, who joins three other county EMS Heads as program graduates: Caroline County’s Ryan Todd, Dorchester County’s Andrew Robertson and Talbot County’s Brian LeCates.
“Many of our graduates eventually go on to big departments, get promoted and are able to take advantage of nice retirement systems,” said Program Director and Chesapeake College faculty member Jon Longest. “Some have even become doctors and physician assistants.”
But it’s the excitement of an active, hands-on job that lures students to the career initially, Longest said.
“Their personality tends to be a little bit Type A,” he explained. “They like excitement and keeping busy, and they don’t want to be chained to a desk.
“They’re hard workers and it’s not unusual for them to have one and half, even two jobs. I know paramedics who even make more than $100,000, but they work their butts off.”
Longest stays active himself as a part-time paid paramedic at the Rescue Squad in Chestertown.
The Chesapeake-Shore Health curriculum currently offers four emergency medical certificates. The most common are those for Emergency Medical
Technician (EMT) -- a new addition to the program -- and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
EMT – a seven-credit, one semester offering followed by National Registry and state exams – is the entry-level position for the profession. An EMT is capable of delivering basic life support skills and can assist patients with administering some medications.
All Mid-Shore paid fire and EMS departments employ EMTs who are coupled with paramedics on an ambulance. Most fire fighters in a paid system are also EMTs.
Private ambulance companies are a source of EMT employment, and any volunteer company ambulance in Maryland also requires an EMT.
Salaries for full-time EMTs on the Mid-Shore are in the low to mid $30,000s, according to reports provided to the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO).
“It’s a stepping stone position that gives you a feel for the career before you take the plunge,” Longest said. “You have to be an EMT before you can earn an EMS certificate and become a licensed paramedic.”
An EMS certificate currently takes students five semesters (18 months) to earn, but Longest is looking to create a hybrid program by fall that will provide both EMT and EMS training in the same timeframe.
Following national and state exams and state licensing, paramedics in Maryland can head paid department ambulance units and can also become flight paramedics with the state police.
Many couple the EMS certificate with an Associate of Applied Science Degree from Chesapeake.
The associate’s degree helps with promotion within EMS departments and improves students’ critical thinking skills and report writing, Longest said.
“One minute you’re a social worker, the next you’re handling a serious trauma and moments later you can be dealing with medical legal situation,” he said. “You need to be well-rounded. Medication math and memorizing formulas come into play frequently.”
Salaries for paramedics on the Mid Shore range from $40,000 to $75,000 based on experience and tenure according to MACO reporting.
Skills are learned in the classroom and state-of-the art simulation laboratories at the college’s Health Professions and Athletic Center building, which opened in September 2015.
The simulators, in particular, have made an enormous difference in providing students with more sophisticated training. Instructors are able to create high fidelity, life-like scenarios that are filmed and later reviewed with students.
“The birthing simulator, for instance, is so realistic that we can even create a breech delivery that students have to manage,” Longest said. “It’s done in the safety of the lab, but it’s all very realistic.”
Chesapeake has two full-time faculty members and about 10 contractual paramedics from the region who work in the simulation laboratory.
“We enjoy good support from our graduates who want to come back and help,” Longest said.
“It’s a phenomenal resource to have available to us,” said Robertson, who occasionally helps teach practical’s for the paramedic program and also conducts evaluator testing. He’s served as Dorchester County’s EMS chief for two years and was previously with Queen Anne County’s EMS division.
Time at clinical sites is also a key part of the education and training. Students work at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center emergency rooms in Cambridge, Queenstown and Easton. Those living or working on the Lower Shore can also do clinical work at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin.
Hours are also spent in hospital operating rooms, cardiac catheterization labs, obstetric and pediatric departments and airway and cadaver/anatomy labs.
Other clinical sites include the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center and Johns Hopkins Burn Center in Baltimore and the Benedictine School for individuals with disabilities in Ridgely.
The combination of increased classroom time, simulator exercises and clinical hours is paving dividends.
“The program has an extraordinary success rate with students passing the National Registry exam,” Wheatley said. “Their first-time pass rate far exceeds the average rate nationally. The technical skills of the Chesapeake-Shore Health students are superior.”