Larry Coleman was my high school history teacher. Back then I wasn't easily impressed or inspired when it came to education. But Mr. Coleman taught differently than what I'd been exposed to before.
Keep in mind, this was before PowerPoint, SMART Board and videoconferenced guest lectures from subject matter experts. Mr. Coleman had a chalkboard, handouts and a textbook. History and government can be boring subjects, especially for a group of 17-year-olds. Mr. Coleman realized this, and instead of sitting behind his desk or standing at the chalkboard with a pointer, he engaged his students—he performed. Think historical recreations—standing on the desk, reciting a famous oration by Kennedy or Lincoln, bringing tired textbooks to life with engaging tactics that gave his students glimpses into historical events and made the contents of the text veritably jump off the page. Thank you, Mr. Coleman.
EMS providers can be similarly difficult students to reach. They are some of the hardest people in the world to impress and inspire. Most of that is because they've seen so many things most folks haven't. As well, many EMSers are "Type A" personalities: intense, competitive and impatient. In their off time, they're often involved in activities most folks wouldn't want to be a part of.
And EMS educators are worse. They've been there, done that, and now are teaching it. As they mold young minds, educators may fall into a rut, using the same old methods, and find themselves sitting at that desk or standing at that dry-erase board, or worse, simply reading in a monotone what shows up on the next PowerPoint slide. How, in Mr. Coleman's name, can they avoid such a fate?
BRINGING LEARNING TO DEATH
The Tennessee Emergency Medical Services Education Association (TEMSEA) holds its conference each July, a challenging gathering of providers and educators from across the state. The leaders of this organization recognized the inherent problems with reaching EMS students, and in the past few years have attempted to raise the bar for their members. This year, with the help of the Vidacare Corp. and Precision Surgical, the local distributor of Vidacare's EZ-IO intraosseous infusion system, TEMSEA was able to take conference participants into the classroom of the future.
Now, cadaver labs and autopsies are nothing new as teaching tools in medicine. However, in EMS, opportunities to participate in such events don't come around very often. Even when they do, they're frequently "look but don't touch" types of situations, held in conjunction with conferences at major universities or off-site hospitals. Attendance is usually limited by a small number of available seats. TEMSEA leaders realized this and wondered how they could take this type of instructional tool to the next level.
They assembled a team and began planning. Within a few months, TEMSEA educators found themselves at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. There, under the guidance of EMS educator Scotty Bolleter, the idea of a procedural anatomy lab came to fruition, and we began the process of creating an experience that would impress any Type A EMS provider or educator. Better yet, what we were doing could be recreated in any educational setting across the United States.
The possibilities were exciting, and made me think back to Mr. Coleman. As he brought his lessons to life, so would we stir our students—by bringing their lessons to death.
After an intense period of training and planning, TEMSEA reached out to the Medical Education and Research Institute (MERI), a nonprofit medical teaching and training facility in Memphis. MERI's motto is, "We learn by doing." It supports state-of-the-art, hands-on education for physicians, nurses and other medical professionals from around the country and world. It was a perfect fit: Through its anatomical donors, MERI could provide unembalmed cadavers for TEMSEA's use in a hands-on procedural lab where EMS learners could put various techniques and skills to the test.