NEWPORT — With the launch of a new high school emergency medical technician (EMT) certification course, the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Newport aims to cultivate a new flow of professionals into the medical field and new learning opportunities through community partnership.
On Tuesday morning, a dozen students from the new certification class convened in the “outdoor classroom,” a courtyard behind the Newport Middle High School building, to discuss potential career opportunities with guest speaker Justin Romanello, bureau chief of the New Hampshire Division of Fire Standards and Training & Emergency Medical Services.
Romanello, whose career in emergency care services spans 25 years and multiple countries, arguably makes him an ideal representative of a career field that is rapidly growing and diversifying.
“It’s not just getting into an ambulance or a fire truck anymore,” Romanello told the class. “The opportunities are endless.”
EMT provides multiple career gateways, program instructor Eric Perry told the Eagle Times. In addition to the demand for paramedics and EMTs in local fire departments and ambulatory services, EMT training can provide a good stepping stone into other medical fields like nursing.
“It’s an opportunity when training to see all other aspects of healthcare,” Perry said. “When you’re in the emergency department you get to see the lab personnel, the radiology team and through the nurses and doctors you work alongside.”
With the hires of Perry and school Director Jennifer Opalinsky in 2019, the center’s Health Science Technology program has received a critical boost. The addition of two certification-level courses — the EMT course and licensed nursing assistant (LNA) course, which was restored in the 2019-2020 academic year — provide two opportunities for high school seniors to get an early jump toward licensure.
Students who complete the EMT certification course will be able to take the national registry exam for EMT certification. The national registry certification is a prerequisite in 48 states to receive a state EMT license.
Helping bring this program to fruition was the forging of new partnerships between the school and the Newport Fire Department and Golden Cross Ambulance in Claremont, whose organizations have agreed to loan equipment to the program and provide students with field-experience on their ambulances.
“Those two organizations have been amazingly supportive to us in getting our program up and running,” Perry said. “And we hope it can benefit them as well in getting them trained, entry-level EMTs.”
The school also funded the new course through a number of grants and federal funds, including an Improvement Grant through the state Department of Education, which enabled the school to purchase a $12,000 “patient simulator,” which involves the running of computer modules through a specialized mannequin.
“This will give students the opportunity to see dynamic changes in their simulated patient which we cannot do with our other mannequins,” Perry said. “[For example], if we have a student give an intervention, we could decide to make the patient get better or to not, to make it like a real-life response, or as close to real life as you can through a simulator.”
Though the hope is to someday grow a workforce feeder into the local community, the course’s primary purpose, like other career-tech education programs, is to give youth an exposure to different career fields.
“It’s better to figure out now whether you will be able [mentally or emotionally] to do the job or not,” Romanello said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be an EMT in a community, but it’s not an easy job. When working with people who are broken or sick, you will have a point where everything you know or can do won’t make a difference [to save a person’s life].”
But even if a student decides emergency medical care is not their career-interest, expanding one’s knowledge is still a rewarding takeaway, Romanello added.
“Even if it doesn’t help you now, it might help you in what you do next,” he told the class.
Romanello said he had experience with a similar EMT high school exploration program based in Darien, Connecticut, which has been “highly successful” in bringing younger emergency medical professionals into the field.
Emergency response systems in rural areas often have to rely on filling positions with young people looking to get a start and build some experience, Romanello said. Many of these young adults only stay with the department for a few years, but so long as there is a continuous flow of young people to step into those vacancies, getting a few years of service before the employee moves on is “not a bad thing” for those departments.