Paramedics play critical role in health-care system

Cambrian College’s primary care paramedic program graduates have maintained a 100 per cent A-EMCA pass rate 12 years running.

Cambrian College program boasts 100 per cent pass rate for provincial exams

Paramedics play a critical role in the health-care system and are often the first health-care professionals on the scene following an accident or health emergency. Exposure to trauma and tragedy on a daily basis can be stressful and demanding, but the opportunity to serve in a helping profession, save lives and care for people in distress results in a flood of applications to paramedic programs at colleges across Ontario.

The stats tell the story. Cambrian College in Sudbury receives an average of 410 applications every year for entry into its two-year Primary Care Paramedic Program. However, the program has a limited enrollment of 55 students, many of whom drop out or fail to make the grade because of the demanding curriculum and the inability to meet the program’s fitness standards, according to program co-ordinator Derek McKinnon. Last year, Cambrian graduated 23 primary care paramedics. This year, there were only 16.

“High school students often don’t realize how academically challenging the program is,” said McKinnon. “There’s also a very demanding fitness component.”

Following graduation, students are required to write the province’s six-hour Advanced Emergency Medical Care Attendant (A-EMCA) exam, which they must pass in order to work as a paramedic in Ontario.

The good news for Cambrian College’s primary care paramedic program is that its graduates have maintained a 100 per cent A-EMCA pass rate 12 years running, said McKinnon.

Knowing a program’s pass rate is important for students applying to a school, he adds, because it reflects the quality of the program and how well students are prepared for the grueling provincial exam and the rigours of the job once they are employed.

The curriculum has had to keep pace with the government’s expanded scope of practice for paramedics, and includes anatomy, physiology, pathology and psychology courses.

“Paramedics have to make critical clinical decisions in the field and have to know how to assess and manage patients,” said McKinnon. “They deal with everything from psychiatric crises, to childbirth and end-of-life care.”

Students do clinical rotations in the Emergency Department and the Intensive Care Unit, as well as in the Obstetrics, Pediatrics and Psychiatry departments at Health Sciences North. They are also introduced to gross anatomy in the hospital’s Post Mortem suite.

Prior to graduating, students are required to do 450 hours of training in the field with a paramedic crew in Sudbury or in the student’s home community.

“Some services interview students for these preceptorships, but they like Cambrian students because of the reputation of our program,” said McKinnon.

A high percentage of graduates are successful in finding employment.

Last spring, Emergency Medical Services in Sudbury posted 10 jobs, while Toronto Paramedic Services had 120 openings, according to McKinnon.

Students are required to attend an information session at Cambrian and participate in fitness exercises prior to receiving final admission into the program.

There is no pass/fail component to the session, but students learn about what’s expected of them in terms of physical fitness and are able to take steps to conform to the physical requirements of the job.

Cambrian also offers a one-year Advanced Care Paramedic Flight Program in conjunction with Ornge, the province’s air ambulance service.

Students can apply for the program immediately following the completion of their primary care paramedic program, or after they have been working as a primary care paramedic for a number of years.

“Advanced care paramedics working for Ornge have a wider scope of practice, both in terms of skill set and pharmacology,” explained program co-ordinator Brad Roney. “They’re able to do facilitated airway management, mechanical ventilation and blood product administration.”

Cambrian College is the only educational institution in Ontario to offer the program. It receives between 60 and 70 applications every year and has a limited enrollment of 14.

The program was introduced three years ago when Ornge, which had historically performed training in-house, decided to outsource it to Cambrian.

Roney, who had worked as an Ornge paramedic for 12 years, knew what the requirements were for training advanced care flight paramedics and expressed interest in offering the program on behalf of the college.

Ornge has a broad footprint in Northern Ontario with bases in Sudbury, Timmins, Moosonee, Thunder Bay, Kenora and Sioux Lookout.

The service employs 11 full-time employees for every aircraft and performs more than 18,000 patient transports per year with its fleet of 10 Augusta Westland AW139 helicopters and eight Pilatus PC-12 fixed wing aircraft.

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