Senior Emily Hayes began training in August 2018 to become certified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). She had already been certified as an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR), which Hayes completed in her junior year. However, she was told to stop her EMT training and is therefore certified only as an EMR. Hayes took her classes at Sierra College in Rocklin.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?

A: My dad got his EMT certification and worked as a lifeguard when he was in college, and my mom worked as a nurse caring for premature babies, so I grew up in a medical household. 

My dad would always tell me stories of the trauma calls he got to run, and they fascinated me. When I was about 11, my dad pulled the car over and helped a bicyclist who’d just been hit by a car. It was amazing to watch my father know exactly how to treat the man’s injuries and calm him down until the ambulance got there.

I wanted to be the one who knew what to do in the future. When I was about 13, my aunt was hit by a truck while riding her bike and almost died. A bystander crawled underneath the truck and held her hand until the firefighters could get her free. I want to be there to comfort someone like that when they need it most. After I took my EMR course and realized I had a talent for diagnosing and treating people, I was sold. 

Q: What did you do in your EMR classes?

A: To get EMR certification, you have to do around 150 hours of lectures and skills training. Mondays we had a four-hour lecture and tests; Wednesdays were usually skills days where EMTs and paramedics would come and teach us actual hands-on skills. 

There was no national exam at the end — you just go and take a test in your class, and then you’re certified.

Q: Were there any funny moments in class?

A: Our teacher’s main purpose was to teach us the things we needed to know that weren’t in the textbook, and he did that through telling us funny stories of calls he’s been on. 

It really helped break up the monotony of four-hour PowerPoints!

My favorite moment in class was probably when he was teaching us how to open a patient’s airways without moving their neck, which is important with patients who have spinal trauma.

Normally the maneuver our teacher was teaching us wouldn’t work on a conscious patient because their jaw would be too tight, but (the teacher) had been knocked around so much that his jaw was loose enough for us to practice on him. 

The first kid who practiced on him immediately opened the teacher’s jaw and just muttered, “Oh, s—!”, and we all started laughing really hard. Our teacher probably laughed the hardest. 

Q: When did you start EMT training?

A: I started EMT training in August before my senior year. I went until September, but then I had a pulmonary embolism and had to go to the hospital, so I missed eight hours of class. 

Since your requirements are hourly, you need to make up every class you miss and make up your work. You can actually get kicked out if you miss class. I was really tied up with things, so I said, “Whatever. I’ll just do it next semester.”

   I started again in January, which would’ve had me finish in May, but since EMT is considered a really dangerous course, you’re not really allowed to take it in high school.

But then the college administration found out and said I couldn’t continue because I would be a liability, so I got kicked out after seven weeks. 

Q: What’s dangerous about EMT training?

A: It’s an inherently dangerous job because we’re exposed to things that hurt other people. When someone gets hurt, we go to the place where they got hurt. 

And we’re also exposed to disease; we have to do 24 hours of hospital time and an ambulance ride-along, so they’re afraid we could get diseases from being around those environments.

Q: Did your training in both programs help you with your schoolwork?

A: EMT was incredibly helpful for my Country Day classes, especially Anatomy and Physiology and AP Bio. 

EMT really focuses on teaching us anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology (how diseases affect normal body function). Having a really solid base in those subjects from EMT made concepts a lot easier when they came up in class.  

Q: Is that why you started Diagnosis Fridays in Anatomy and Physiology?

A: Originally it’s because I’m (high school science teacher Kellie Whited’s teaching assistant), but I loved the labs so much that she let me take them over. 

For the labs, students are given a fake patient with a list of symptoms, and then the students have to solve what disease the patient is suffering from and how to treat it using notes and testing options. 

My experience in real-world healthcare helps me guide the students and give them tips on how to get to the bottom of what’s affecting their patient. I teach them proper medical terminology and abbreviations they will see in hospitals they work in, and they get to start practicing their diagnostic skills in a low-key environment. 

I also teach them a lot of tools EMTs use to diagnose their patients. 

Q: Will you continue EMT training after graduating from high school?

A: I’ll definitely be taking the EMT course this summer at Sierra so I can be an EMT in college.

It (will) be 24 hours a week plus the time set apart for the other requirements.

This is kind of a now-or-never time to take this course — and to do it in an environment where the teacher knows me — is nice. 

Q: Can you already use your EMR certification to start working?

A: EMRs are not advanced enough to staff ambulances, but I have used my training to do rescues and aid at vehicle crash sites just as a good Samaritan. 

Once I receive my EMT certification, I’ll apply to work at an ambulance company throughout college.

Q: Did any of those good Samaritan acts stand out to you?

A: For the first, I was fresh out of my EMR class. I was sitting down with my family eating dinner, and all of a sudden my grandma started choking on her steak. 

Long story short, I open her airway for her, get her breathing normally, and then go meet the ambulance when I hear it pulling up outside to give what’s called a “turnover report” (explaining a patient’s symptoms and medical history when passing them onto another medical professional). 

After the paramedics all do their thing and make sure that she’s all good to go, the paramedic leading the team told me it was one of the best turnover reports she’d heard in a long time. 

It was really validating to know that I could perform correctly under stressful, real-life conditions, and it showed me how well my teacher had prepared me to do my job correctly and interact with other professionals in a way that helped my patient. 

   The second was actually kind of funny. I was working as a head lifeguard at a swim club when one of my guards ran up and told me there was a woman going into labor. Of course, I thought, “Awesome,” and started sprinting up the hill and snapping on some gloves. 

We both walked up to her, expecting to get ready to deliver a baby, and (instead) had her tell us in a rather alarmed, oh-dear-I’ve-made-two-teenagers-incredibly-nervous way that she was completely fine and absolutely not going into labor. 

It was a bit of a letdown, but I realized how passionate I was about treating people and how exciting it can be. 

I also pulled up to a weird scene one time. It was dark and there was a car stopped right next to the Arco at the intersection of Watt and Fair Oaks with its hazard lights on and people dragging someone out of it. So I circled around and parked somewhere safe before I put on some gloves and walked up. 

I’ll be honest — my heart was beating out of my chest. Car accidents are really dangerous scenes that we’re not really encouraged to approach without actually being on the job, but I really wanted to see if there was anything I could do. 

I walked up to this group of people and said as calmly as I could, “Hey, I’m an EMT student; is there anything I can do to help?” and immediately heard, “Oh, thank God, yes!” from the crowd. 

It was so validating to hear. I knew I’d chosen a profession that was needed and appreciated, and that I would spend my life helping those who were having awful days.

—By Mehdi Lacombe

Originally published in the April 23 edition of the Octagon.

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