Photo: Fifteen high school seniors from Calhoun County are working towards an EMT certification through Gadsden State’s program at Anniston Regional Training Center. Pictured above practicing their CPR skills are, from left, Brody Wright, Will Collins and Kaytlyn Gardner. (Courtesy of Gadsden State)
Gadsden State Community College is introducing an Emergency Medical Services Program expressly for its dual-enrollment high school students.
Two Gadsden State instructors and employees at the Anniston Regional Training Center have worked for six years to implement such a program. John Hollingsworth, director of the Emergency Medical Services Program, and Kay Cunningham, an EMS instructor, are thrilled that their tenacity has finally paid off.
“There’s a huge need in the community,” Cunningham said. “The EMS shortage matches the nursing shortage. We need to recruit and train more EMTs and paramedics. This program is important in us being able to provide trained EMTs for our community.”
Gadsden State prepares students to qualify for entry-level positions in the EMS workforce. After completing the academic year of program training, high school students may choose to continue their training on the college’s East Broad or Ayers campuses to become an advanced EMT or paramedic, but they can go directly into the workforce as EMTs.
“Our program is designed for students who want to have a career in pre-hospital care,” Hollingsworth said. “These students will graduate from high school as certified EMTs. Then they are workforce-ready as soon as they complete the National Registry examination.”
Qualified students must be enrolled in Calhoun County Schools. Before going through the application process, current students had to meet with their guidance counselor and have at least a 2.5 GPA. Only 15 students were selected for the first cohort for the EMS program.
“This is a pilot program, so we wanted to make sure we recruited from a diverse system of schools,” Hollingsworth said. “This program requires students to stay on top of their EMS training as well as continue to be successful in their other required high school courses.”
The students earned Gadsden State scholarships to cover tuition, fees, books and supplies. They are required to attend class five days a week. A morning class serves students attending Alexandria and Saks high schools, while the afternoon class covers Weaver, Wellborn, Ohatchee and Pleasant Valley high schools.
“We have great representation from our schools in Calhoun County,” Cunningham said.
As a part of the EMT coursework, students are being trained in CPR. If they are of age, students will complete the Emergency Vehicle Operator Course so that they are able to drive an ambulance. They also attend a lab that features work skills stations, where they practice responsibilities like bandaging and patient loading.
Students are required to complete clinical rotations in emergency rooms and on ambulances. They will wear uniforms and work side-by-side with experienced EMTs and paramedics. After completing the training, they must pass an exam to receive their certification from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. Students must apply for state licensure before working as EMTs.
“We are covering many topics in emergency care,” Cunningham said. “We are not only lecturing. We are doing hands-on activities. We are letting them use the equipment. They will be prepared when they finish this program.”
The EMS Program for high school students is housed at the Anniston Regional Training Center, which is undergoing a million-dollar expansion made possible by a city bond issuance.
“The City Council never wavered when we asked for their support to expand the training center,” said Anniston Assistant Chief Training Officer Johnnie Phelps. “When we confirmed that Gadsden State was on board to teach the EMS program, we got complete buy-in from our council members.”
He said there are many benefits to the Anniston Regional Training Center, including saving local fire departments thousands of dollars because they no longer have to send firefighters to the Alabama Fire College in Tuscaloosa. The center, which is the only one of its kind in the region, also brings students and trainees to Calhoun County, where they spend money on food, lodging and entertainment.
“This center is an investment in our community,” Phelps said. “We’re not just talking about investing in our children and in our community. We are actually doing it.”
The Center includes a 12,000-square-foot indoor training space, approximately 16,000 square feet in classrooms and labs and a banquet area that can seat up to 250 people. The expansion is expected to be completed in November.
Extra space gives the Center the opportunity to increase its certification offerings from 30 to 60 for first responders including police officers, National Guard soldiers, hazardous material managers, Civil Service employees and firefighters. Code enforcement officer and building inspector training will also take place at the Anniston Regional Training Center.
“We are excited that the expansion will allow us the space to install an ambulance simulator that will provide our students with hands-on experience in different emergency situations,” Hollingsworth said.
In addition to the EMS program, the training center also houses a Fire Science Program for high school students. These students will also graduate from high school already on a career path. There are 19 students from nine Calhoun County schools in the program.
“We have seen great returns with the Fire Science Program,” Phelps said. “We have a successful model that we are using for the EMS Program as well. Both programs are massive recruiting opportunities for the City of Anniston and surrounding communities. It’s really a win for all of us.”
Most of the students in the Gadsden State EMS Program — like Kaytlyn Gardner and Will Collins, both 18 — were influenced to apply to the program by their families.
“My family has a medical background, so I’ve always been interested in healthcare,” said Gardner, a senior at Alexandria High School. “I decided to look into being an EMT. I not only want to help save lives but I also want to be there for people to help lift them up in some of their darkest moments.”
“My dad and brother are in emergency care, so I have seen that it’s a very honorable profession,” said Collins, also an Alexandria student. “The Emergency Medical Services Program is suited for me, and I’m loving it.”
Brody Wright, a 17-year-old student at Saks High School, said he finds his uncle’s profession as a firefighter and paramedic interesting.
“I come from a family of first responders, so being one is pretty much engrained in me,” he said. “Being an EMT is a natural career choice for me.”
For Kelvin Zheng, 16, going into the medical profession is different than the career paths of his family members.
“My family immigrated from China to make a better life for me and my siblings,” said the Saks High School senior. “They have had to work very hard, with most of them working blue-collar jobs. Healthcare is very different, but they are proud of my decision. The EMS program is a great stepping stone for me.”
The students are all excited about being a part of the pilot EMS Program for high school students.
“Our program has already grown a lot of interest,” Cunningham said. “Our students are talking about the program to their friends at school. They are spreading the word.”
For more information about the EMS Program as well as other programs in Health Sciences at Gadsden State, visit www.gadsdenstate.edu/healthsciences.
Submitted by Jackie Edmondson.