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Education/Training

EMTs Compete at SkillsUSA National Leadership Conference

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry that work together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. EMT students from across the country challenged their professional occupational skills at its 55th National Leadership and Skills Conference at Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center in June. The 2019 conference was the first time the EMT event was conducted at the SkillsUSA Championships.

EMT students and SkillsUSA members from high school and postsecondary training programs in Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri, and California were invited by the SkillsUSA executive committee to participate in the EMT contest. “SkillsUSA has recognized the importance of EMS education, and we are bringing our profession to the conference,” says EMT-P Chris Phelps, the EMT technical committee chair and an EMT instructor at Columbia Area Career Center in Columbia, Mo.

“The event’s performance guidelines and contestant assessments are based on the EMT-Basic National Standard Curriculum,” says Phelps. “Technical committee members are EMS educators from around the country. What we know is that no matter where the student is enrolled, whether high school or postsecondary, we have the EMT core curriculum that is taught around the U.S.”

Christy McCloud, EMS education program director at University Hospital in Missouri, headed the team of facilitators and skills evaluators, who came from MU Health’s EMS Institute. “I was concerned when the technical committee asked us to facilitate this event,” says McCloud. “As an evaluator it’s extremely easy for us to know which students are trained and how, because we’re evaluating the national skills we see in our own state.”

Servio Escobedo, from North Valley Occupational Center (Calif.), says, “Working in the ambulance was very different from class. There were seats with seat belts and harnesses, and it really made us think. We’re going to be working inside while we transport patients and not in this perfect world where we have a lot of space.”

The MU team designed scenarios around two SimMan 3G patient simulators brought from the college for the event. “The committee felt it was important to create the EMT event for teams of two,” Phelps says. “This makes the scenarios more like what competitors will find in a real-world situation and stresses teamwork and communication as much as hands-on skills.”

Says McCloud, “We wanted something other than the same old (skills) testing done alone. We knew to expect most of them to not have the experience of loading a cot or being in the back of the ambulance and actually working as a team. This was their opportunity to work side by side with only each other in the back, and that’s why we had those manikins. It’s something we expected the students didn’t have experience with.”

MU Clinical Coordinator Robert Draper notes, “For some of the students, this was their first time interacting with high-fidelity manikins that simulated arterial bleeding, pupillary responses, and chest rise and fall.” Harlie Laws, an EMT student demonstrator from McDowell High School (N.C.), says, “The manikin acts somewhat like a real person, or as real as it can be, so it was very different. We don’t have one at our school, and our class really doesn’t have time to go to the technical college and work with one.”

Misty Jones, dean of MU Health’s EMS Institute, accompanied her team from the University of Missouri Health system to the conference. “It was our first time being at something like this, so we had no idea what it was and how huge SkillsUSA is,” she says. “I’m blown away by the size of this conference.” According to SkillsUSA, more than 6,300 SkillsUSA members competed in 103 sanctioned skill and leadership events. The four-day national conference hosted more than 18,000 visitors and 600 national corporations, trade associations, businesses, and labor unions.

Hoping for Growth

Although 2019 was the first year for the EMT event at the conference, Phelps notes at least four state organizations were already conducting EMT competitions of their own. The SkillsUSA occupational contests begin locally and continue through state and national levels. Prior to this year EMT state competitors did not advance to the national stage because the SkillsUSA parent organization had not adopted an official competition guide for the contest.

Daisylynn Kimball, a SkillsUSA advisor and EMT instructor from Career Magnet Center in Lockport, La., says, “We don’t have this competition in our state, so it’s frustrating for our EMT students and advisors. Students would have to compete in other events that didn’t allow them to show all the skills they have learned. So I know my students will want this.” Kimball’s comments were echoed by many over the four days of the conference, from school administrators to SkillsUSA state directors. “We will definitely be doing this event at our state conference next year,” says Jennifer Graber, state director for the SkillsUSA Florida organization.

“This was our exhibition year to the executive committee, so we were limited by SkillsUSA in what we had this year,” says Phelps when asked about the future of the EMT contest. “We have to have a partner from business or industry to transition from an educator-led committee to what is required by SkillsUSA, which is a business and industry-led competition with the representation of education and academia embedded. We also need at least 10 state organizations to adopt the EMT event for 2019–2020. If all that happens, we will be invited to return next June to run this event again and produce a SkillsUSA EMT national champion team.”

SkillsUSA is a national membership association with 360,000 members in more than 19,000 chapters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The organization’s goal is to promote personal and workplace skills in members from middle school through college who are preparing for careers in technical and skilled service occupations. SkillsUSA’s roots can be traced back to the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA), started in 1965 to promote leadership and vocational training. In 2004 the club’s name was officially changed to SkillsUSA.

Jonathan Schaeffer, LPN, EMT, is a career technical education advisor with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Division of Adult and Career Education. He has served in a variety of roles in his 26 years as an EMT, including EMT course primary instructor, chief of operations with Liberty Ambulance in Los Angeles, and member of the St. Joseph Township Fire Department EMS (Fort Wayne, Ind.).  

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