Those interested in becoming a paramedic used to have to travel elsewhere in the province to attend their studies. Now, a new program offered by Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI) aims to help keep prospective paramedics learning, and eventually working, close to home.
In collaboration with Durham College, SGEI has begun offering its own paramedic program at the Fort Frances campus, beginning in 2021 with a cohort of three students. A similar program is also on offer at SGEI’s Kenora campus. SGEI paramedic program co-ordinator Malcolm Daly, also a working paramedic, noted that the program is comparable to anything that a student would receive elsewhere in the province, due to the collaboration with Durham, provincial regulations, and SGEI’s attention to its faculty and students.
“A paramedic program is regulated through the Ministry of Health, it’s basically a province-wide education system or structure,” Daly said.
“It’s a two-year diploma program anywhere you go. At Seven Generations we partner with Durham College to deliver our paramedic program. Durham is a very good school, very well-known throughout the province. After the program, you’re basically eligible to write your licensing exam and then start working as a paramedic. The structure of the program varies school to school, but at the end of the day you’re really doing half classroom, half hands-on education.”
At SGEI, Daly has split his classroom in half to provide one area for in-class learning to take place, and the other to allow for simulated situations to help build and assess the critical skills needed to become a successful paramedic in the field. The simulation lab features a number of tools and equipment designed to replicate as closely as possible the equipment that is used in the day-to-day job, including stretchers, emergency kits and special heart-rate monitors that Daly can manipulate via tablet to simulate different medical conditions in the student’s “patient.”
“The best way we have right now to assess somebody’s ability to perform in a high stress real life situation is to try our best to mimic a high stress real life situation,” Daly explained.
“Then we observe and grade the student based on their performance in these situations using a scale that’s designed for that, and you average it over many scenarios to show they show proficience. I can’t test them on everything they’re going to see. Every single call, even if they’re super similar looking, are still very different, so we try our best to give them a robust area of patient presentations and we assess their ability to deal with them.”
Of course, working through different situations in a lab is a far cry from attending a call in person, and Daly explained that the work they do in class actually aims to limit the amount of stress placed on the student in those learning situations.
“This might seem unfamiliar to a lot of people unless you’re in my seat, but performing a scenario in front of somebody who is grading you – and your whole future depends on that grade – is more stressful than the real-life life-or-death situation in some ways,” he said.
“We try not to put too much pressure on the students, but we use highly life-like mannequins or real volunteer patients. We utilize a lot of prosthetics, wounds, broken or amputated limbs, things like that. It’s all about high-fidelity simulation, making it as real as we can. If you have a car accident, or anything that happens in a car and I want to assess a student’s ability to extricate from a vehicle, we’ll do it in a car.”
Once the student reaches the third semester of the program, Daly said they begin their field placements with local paramedics, eventually logging 600 hours of on-the-job training and experience under a professional before graduation. This allows students to cement all of the lessons learned in the classroom portion of the program, which Daly said he considers the most difficult part of the learning process for students, before going on to use those skills in the workplace.
While the paramedics learn in a classroom/lab setting that already features a number of high-tech tools, Daly said his plan is to continue to expand what SGEI can offer to paramedic students. He said he wants to add a mock ambulance to the lab for students to learn “the full gamut” of the paramedic experience in the classroom, from approaching the patient to delivering them to the awaiting medical facility. Daly has also helped to put together a weight and workout room on the second floor of the school to allow for the physical fitness requirements of the profession, beginning by buying some gear second-hand before getting some additional funding from SGEI to round out the room’s offerings.
Daly said that paramedic programs in the past have seemed to focus on a certain sense of superiority, touting the number of students who don’t make it into their program, or who drop out over time. The culture at SGEI, he said, along with their partner in Durham College, is to encourage all students to be successful in their program of choice, including paramedicine.
“We want everybody to succeed,” Daly explained.
“We focus on our graduation, our retention, instead of our attrition. Everybody in the world has the ability to do this, as much as people say ‘oh I could never do that.’ You 100 percent could. Should you? Maybe not. It might not be for you, but you could do it, so there’s no sense making people feel they can’t. It needs to be inclusive, otherwise you’re leaving out a huge area of people who might be phenomenal at this job, they just don’t have the access. It’s not ‘get up or get out,’ it’s ‘we’ll figure it out, we’ll get you through.'”
This approach has the potential to be a game changer in both the local area and the province as both experience a shortage of trained paramedics. Coupling an increase in the number of available jobs and larger numbers of retiring paramedics, more and more graduates from paramedic programs have plenty of opportunities in the larger city centres where they have studied and trained, which in turn leaves less graduates coming to smaller areas like the Rainy River District, according to Daly.
“Our local need here, for years and years and years, has been about five a year that we hire,” he said.
“But we have fallen so far behind that, and the provincial shortage of paramedics is so intense. We can’t hire in. We’ve been trying to hire for a year and there’s nobody to work because they’ve all got jobs elsewhere. There are already open jobs in Toronto, nobody is coming up here to work. So we have to make our own.”
The benefit of being able to study close to home and then likely get a job in your chosen field is one of the strongest draws to SGEI that Daly highlighted when it comes to the local paramedics program. The campus also has a high student to teacher ratio, which means more focused learning with the faculty and instructors. All of these factors, Daly said, make SGEI a strong choice for prospective paramedic students. for those who might consider paramedicine in the future, Daly said it’s a good career choice for people who enjoy speaking with others and applying their skills and knowledge to intense situations.
Seven Generations Education Institute has taken strides into addressing the shortage of trained medical professionals in the province, from their Paramedics program to their Bachelor of nursing program. Daly noted the Institute is also introducing the Emergency Services Fundamentals (EMSF) program for students interested in the medical fields, which will help to provide essential credits towards several of the other health programs on offer. See next week’s issue of the Fort Frances Times for more information on SGEI’s EMSF program, which is aiming for a Fall 2022 intake.
To learn more about the SGEI paramedic program, visit the Institute’s website at www.7generations.org/programs/paramedic/ or contact one of the program coordinators. The next intake for the SGEI paramedics program is scheduled for Fall 2023.