Students in the Emergency Medical Technician Program at Piedmont Technical College (PTC) learned about options available after completing a one-semester EMT Certificate.

An information session this summer featured several professionals in the health care first-responder field sharing insights. Students learned that their opportunities are not limited to work on the ground. If they so choose, they eventually may even take to the skies.

Rod Stoll, a flight paramedic with Life Flight Air Medical Transport, told the group that the basic EMT course they are taking will serve as the core to a health care career layered in progressive increments. Around every turn are more choices that go in many directions.

“What you learn now is the foundation for where you are going,” he said. “That continues into nursing, medical school, or critical care transport. … We are the 1% of the 1%. Statistically, about 1% of the population works in health care, and 1% of those people work in critical care.”

Perhaps the most exciting thing about EMT/Paramedic training is that the demand is strong. “The average age of a paramedic in South Carolina is 49 years old. They will be coming out of the workplace,” Steve McDade, PTC Paramedic Program Director, told the group. “I am looking for the next leaders of EMS in South Carolina.”

McDade noted that there are 269 EMS agencies across the state, and opportunities are abundant right. “The jobs are there, and they have gotten better. There are flexible hours. You can choose the shifts that fit your life schedule.”

Steve Hudson, Paramedic Program coordinator and lead instructor, said that he felt the basic EMT training was even more difficult than paramedic training because the EMT instruction is establishing the core competencies that apply across the board.

“You are building your foundation. It becomes easier as you go, but it still is a lot of work. You have to make a commitment to be in paramedic school,” he said, adding, “There are paramedic positions open at every agency in our seven-county service area.”

Nursing is another field some EMTs and paramedics may gravitate toward. PTC Health Care Dean Tara Gonce noted that, because of their background and training, paramedics make excellent candidates to enter the nursing field.

A follow-up event allowed recruiters from EMS agencies to speak with students who will be entering the job market soon.

Derek Oliver, Director of Emergency Services for Greenwood County, said the pandemic over the past year has impacted the EMT shortage, as some professionals made difficult choices to leave their jobs to stay home with children after schools closed or care for relatives who had fallen ill. Others may have balked at the risk involved with transporting COVID-19 patients.

Oliver recruits through multiple channels, including high school and college campus visits, as well as job fairs. “I also give potential recruits the opportunity to ride around on one of our units,” he added.

Cameron Word with Laurens County EMS transfixed a handful of students with stories from the field. Word is a graduate of the PTC program’s first EMT cohort, receiving both the program award and Health Care Division award.

“We have driver positions open right now for our non-emergent transport truck,” he said. “It’s a good way to get into the field and then work your way up.”

Representatives from the privately owned Thorne Ambulance Service also answered questions and outlined benefits for those willing to make a minimum two-year commitment.

A number of grants and other funding sources combine to make EMT or paramedic training financially painless.

“There are a dozen different ways that you can get this training free,” said Ann Skinner, workforce development director at the Upper Savannah Council of Governments. Upper Savannah received a $500,000 four-year grant to train 100 EMTs and paramedics. Therefore, the prospect of tuition costs should not deter anyone from considering EMT training opportunities.

“We do a little bit of everything in EMS and paramedicine,” Hudson said. “You can look in the mirror and know at the end of the day that you have made a difference in someone’s life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

For more information about PTC’s EMT and Paramedic training programs, go to www.ptc.edu/emt.

Submitted by Kristine Hartvigsen