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Paramedics in Lab Coats

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Paramedics in research? Many people say it can't be done, they just don't go together. Common statements are that we're out of our league or just not qualified to do the work. How many paramedics could manage complex statistical evaluations when some can't even compute the rate for a dopamine drip or convert pounds to kilograms?

For the final column in my series of guest editorials, I'm here to talk about one more possibility in paramedicine: Paramedics can work in research Medical Technology from Greenville (SC) Technical College, I was at Duke University in North Carolina attending classes in research methodology. I applied for a research intern position while in my last year of medic school and, before the summer was out, I was working as a Field Research Coordinator (FRC) in Key Largo, FL. My job was to gather and analyze data for Project Dive Exploration. The information I gathered was used to create dive profiles and offer additional information research scientist who has written much of what we know about hyperbaric medicine. After my internship, I gave a presentation of my findings to a group of several hundred doctors and scientists at the 42nd Diving & Hyperbaric Medicine Course.

Years later, I still assist DAN and Duke University in research experiments, not only for scuba medicine, but also for hypobaric studies conducted for NASA. About once a year, I volunteer to help with studies conducted in the believe that run after ambulance run is all that life in EMS has to offer them. It's not true, and there is no reason to experience burnout in this job if you would just take a look around and experience all that paramedicine can offer you. Maybe you don't want to leave your job permanently, or even on a temporary basis, to work in research. If that's the case, how about bringing the research to your job?

Agencies across the country are actively assisting efforts to improve EMS medicine. Many of the projects deal with new treatment modalities or medicines. I know what you're thinking-only big-city agencies get those projects. While that's often the case, it doesn't have to be. Research is just as important in rural areas and small towns as it is in metropolitan areas. If a medicine works well for a five-minute transport time, how about the two-hour transport you may experience in your area? It's just about gathering information -information that will make a difference in paramedical care. Think about what you want to know-there's a potential research project.

Establishing a Research Project
If you hope to bring a project to your area, there are a few prerequisites you must establish, then you can be on your way.

The prerequisites consist of:

  • Strong support from your medical director
  • Strong support from your agency and any groups who oversee the agency, such as a city or county council
  • A core group of responders who will oversee the study within the agency
  • The willingness among all responders within the agency to adhere to the study guidelines.

Paramedics all over the country are suggesting studies to their chiefs and medical directors. Once you get the okay from above, establish a committee to form a study project and guidelines. As you establish a project to study, look on the Web for other projects already underway. You may be able to find researchers working on a project who would be willing to expand their research to your area or use you for an additional study. Then look for funding and assistance from other sources. You may need supplies from your local hospital or possibly a certain type of equipment from an emergency equipment manufacturer.

There are basically two options available for research in EMS. There is the individual approach that I embarked upon-working outside an EMS agency in a research field that, although it would have ramifications on EMS treatments, was not directly involved in EMS. The individual method is one that often takes you away from field medicine for at least part of your career. If you take this path, be sure to work at least part-time on an ambulance to keep up your skills and not lose touch with EMS.

The other approach is the agency option-bringing research projects to your agency. This will allow you to spice up your EMS career and, hopefully, those of your colleagues. You will also be able to see the direct effects of the research on your patients. For many, this is the most rewarding approach.

Aside from the obvious benefits of participating in prehospital research -patient welfare and career enjoyment-there are many other benefits that can help your career. These include the opportunity to publish in medical or scientific journals and the ability to expand your influence beyond the ambulance and the ED by working in labs or with other medical professionals.

Looking Ahead
As this series of columns comes to a close, I hope I've exposed readers to one more opportunity to take it to the next level. Paramedics should be a larger part of research projects that will impact the medicine we deliver in the field. If you don't already have a research project within your agency, work on creating one. If you want to expand your own career beyond field ambulance work, then you might start looking into research opportunities for yourself.

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