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Health & Wellness

Medicine on the Move

EMT class prepares students to expect the unexpected


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In the slideshow above, students and instructors talk about BU’s EMT course and the training exercise that is often students’ favorite moment.

StuVi residents could be forgiven for feeling alarmed on a recent weekend morning when they looked out their windows to see an apparent four-car crash in the parking lot below. Bodies were carefully removed from the smashed vehicles over the course of two hours. Yet oddly enough, none of the victims were covered in blood or suffered broken bones.

That’s because the scene playing out was not in fact a real accident, but a training exercise for the emergency medical technician (EMT) course taught by Emergency Medical Services. The junked cars were borrowed for the day, the “bodies” volunteers who played “patient” for their peers.

University EMT instructor coordinator Alethea Granberg (CAS’00, MET’11) says the training exercise is routinely her students’ favorite moment of the whole course.

“Every semester we get our evaluations back and students rave about this day because they get to actually go through, use the vehicles, and add all of their knowledge together,” says Granberg.

Since 1999, BU has offered EMT training courses that prepare students through lectures and practical labs (like the scene outside StuVi) for state certification exams. Over the course of the semester, students study a range of medical problems, from allergic reactions and wound care to cardiac arrest and childbirth.

“If somebody calls 911 for it, we’re responsible for preparing you for it,” says Ray Levy (SAR’99, SPH’01), a University EMT instructor coordinator and former EMS manager.

Current EMS manager Zach Hahn (CAS’07) says BU has the state’s largest EMT training center, preparing about 10 percent of the technicians certified in Massachusetts each year. Nearly 160 participants graduated in the spring semester alone.

The program is demanding. Students must meet a 100 percent attendance policy (148 hours all told) to pass. Levy says the program’s strict attendance requirement is the hardest, but most crucial, part: “No one wants the EMT showing up and saying, ‘I was absent the day’” instructors covered this particular medical emergency.

All the hard work pays off. BU’s EMT course has an impressive success rate. Hahn says graduates taking the state exam for the first time have a 94 percent pass rate for the practical exam and score in the high 90s for the written exam. Statewide, the pass rate is 61 percent.

“I think our students are really well-prepared academically and practically,” says Granberg.

Newly minted EMTs from BU’s program may work on campus at FitRec, covering a variety of activities, ranging from a Sargent College student event to Matriculation, held at the beginning of fall semester. Others might apply to ambulance companies for full- or part-time work.

Most of the BU EMT students are premed or from Sargent College or the College of Arts & Sciences, according to Levy and Hahn, with a handful drawn from other schools and colleges. The program draws interest from other universities as well. Tufts, Harvard, and Brandeis each hire BU instructors to teach EMT courses at their campuses.

The program also attracts professionals, including police officers and firefighters interested in becoming certified as EMTs. Then there are those hoping to make a career change, like Heather Hayes. With a degree in legal studies from UMass-Amherst, she now works in administration at Massachusetts General Hospital. But after attending BU’s summer course, Hayes hopes to become a full-time EMT.

“My job’s great,” she says, “but I thought this seemed more exciting, less of a desk job, and more out doing stuff.”

Students interested in signing up for the fall EMT training course have until September 2 to register. One class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, from September 2 to December 12. A second class meets Mondays and Wednesdays, from September 8 to December 13. Each session meets some weekends. A $985 textbook and certification fee is due on September 2, payable online or in person at the FitRec Center, 915 Commonwealth Ave.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

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