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Study Abroad Provides a Wider Perspective

It is important for university paramedic students to realize the learning curve doesn’t stop at graduation. We stress to students that graduation is not the pinnacle of their education but just a stepping-off point. Local continuing education is important, but it’s essential that students and graduates engage with the wider national and international paramedic community through conferences to expand their education, keep up with the latest research, and see how their system compares to those in other places. 

Central Washington University (CWU)  took it one step further and started the university’s first paramedic study-abroad program in conjunction with the paramedic program at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. This summer we hosted four paramedic students and their director. During their time in the U.S., they did ride-alongs with departments across Washington and experienced firsthand how the profession operates in the United States. While a first for CWU, this program is also a unique opportunity for EMS in America, as we are not aware of many other paramedic-specific university undergraduate study-abroad programs in the U.S.

Feedback from all parties confirmed the program was a fantastic success. The interactions between fire and ambulance crews and their Australian counterparts were provocative and informative. As we looked for differences, we also found similarities and formed numerous friendships. Students rode with multiple agencies, including Seattle’s Medic One, the Tacoma Fire Department, Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue (KVFR), AMR of Yakima, Ballard Ambulance of Wenatchee, LifeLine Ambulance of Omak, Deer Park Volunteer Ambulance, and Spokane’s city and county fire departments; and air services that included Life Flight, the University of Washington’s Airlift Northwest, and Aero Methow Rescue Service of Twisp. They also spent time at Kittitas Valley Hospital (KVH) and Seattle’s famed Harborview Hospital. 

We wish to thank these entities for their support and adding value to the program. QUT students also gave a presentation to CWU paramedic students and facilitated cultural exchange through the sharing of a traditional vegemite spread. 

Returning the Favor

The paramedic program at QUT is a three-year bachelor’s degree course and also has a paramedic/nurse dual-degree option, which is a four-year program. Their paramedic students graduate as advanced-care paramedics (ACPIIs), with fewer skills than paramedics in Washington. For example, ACPIIs do not intubate or perform RSI, do not perform intraosseous access, and do not administer amiodarone or sodium bicarbonate for cardiac arrest. 

After graduating and gaining national registration, Australian paramedics can undergo postgraduate studies in critical care paramedicine. They can then become critical care paramedics (CCPs), which have advanced skills to match those of paramedics in Washington. CCPs can then complete further training to work on high-acuity response units, where they can perform open thoracotomies, administer blood products and transfusions, and perform other advanced critical care skills. 

This fall CWU will send five paramedics from Washington and Idaho for a three-week visit to Australia. Paramedic program director Doug Presta will accompany them. The group will spend time in Sydney and then travel to Brisbane. 

CWU offers a bachelor’s degree in paramedicine in our fourth year, with all courses offered online to allow our students to be employed anywhere in the world while taking courses. Our study-abroad program is offered only to those fourth-year students, so they can be out of the country for three weeks without affecting their online courses. Our delegation will be riding with the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) high-acuity response units (HARUs), interacting with students in the QUT paramedic program, and starting a United States association with the QUT undergraduate paramedic association called Student Paramedic Undergraduates (SPUs).

We will also partake in other activities, such as meeting QAS’ medical director, Dr. Steve Rashford, and other senior paramedic mangers at state headquarters. Students will interact with QAS and Queensland Fire and Rescue (QFRS) staff at the joint ambulance/fire training facility on Whyte Island in the Port of Brisbane and tour other facilities to gain an understanding of the provision of emergency care to people living in remote areas. 

In addition to paramedicine-related visits, planned cultural activities include visiting some of Queensland’s iconic beaches and tourist attractions and a visit to Australia Zoo (founded by the late Steve Irwin) to learn about venomous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, crocodiles, and more. Additionally, we will attend professional development and research events hosted by QAS and Paramedics Australasia, allowing students to further network with Australian paramedics, academics, and other key stakeholders to discuss future directions and advanced guidelines for paramedicine in Australia.

QUT has set a goal of recruiting outside locations for exchange programs to improve its education and provide experiences for its students. It has exchange programs in China, Vietnam, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K., and more. Students not only experience great educational exchanges and ideas, they return to Brisbane and present on what they have learned and their experiences to their cohorts and departments. CWU is expanding on this concept by promoting study abroad and cultural exchange. Not only will the school be continuing its exchange with Brisbane, it’s currently creating three new study-abroad locations, in Accra, Ghana, and Milan and Rome, Italy.

Building Bridges

We strongly believe in the concept of the exchange program. We have seen firsthand how valuable these programs are to building networks and lasting friendships, creating new ideas, and sharing experiences and bringing our cultures closer together.

These programs also provide employment opportunities. QUT student paramedics have obtained employment in the U.K. and New Zealand with exchange host organizations—opportunities that would not have occurred if not for these types of study-abroad programs. 

The students from Brisbane finished the last night of their program in the U.S. at a dinner hosted by the local paramedics with whom they’d worked over the last three weeks. Several local medics are now planning on attending the next Paramedics Australasia International Conference.

Furthermore, two of the Australian students are looking into employment opportunities in Ellensburg, Wash., with Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue. We are excited to be part of such educational opportunities and aim to expand these opportunities for students at CWU. 

If you are interested in one of our exchange programs or a bachelor’s degree in paramedicine through our advanced standing program for paramedics looking to get their degree, please contact  

Douglas Presta, DPM, NRP, is paramedic program director at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash. 

Scott Devenish, PhD, is a senior lecturer and course coordinator on the healthcare faculty in the School of Clinical Sciences at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. 

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