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Local college paramedic program looks to fill nationwide shortage

Midlands Tech's Paramedic Program aims to put more advanced-skilled first responders in communities.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — There is a critical shortage of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics across the nation.

In fact, there have been fewer and fewer every year.

Now, as a pandemic hits the country, communities need first responders more than ever.

Because of this nationwide demand for more trained first responders, Midlands Technical College launched their Paramedic Program.

The 9-month class began in January and is training students to be multi-skilled first responders. 

"It is taking providers from being an EMT, or Emergency Medical Technician, to becoming a paramedic," said Benji McCollum, Lead Paramedic Instructor for Midlands Technical College. "While there are several paramedic programs throughout the state, Midlands Tech's is the only one based out of a technical college [in the Midlands]."

McCollum says an EMT has minimum certification to provide care by themselves in the back of an ambulance. A paramedic has more advanced-level training.

"A paramedic takes the training an EMT has and adds additional advanced skills such as IV initiation, medication administration, cardiac monitoring and intubation," he said. "[In class] we are focusing on cardiology and 12-lead EKG's and how to manage folks who are having a heart attack."

The now-virtual class has 14 students who are all EMT's: Two from Fairfield County EMS and 12 from Lexington County EMS.

"We have determined in just over the last five years that if you're not training your own, if you're not advancing folks to the paramedic level, finding them in the workforce to come to work for you already as a trained paramedic is almost non-existent," said Brian Hood, EMS Chief of Lexington County.

Hood says Lexington County EMS formed a Loan Agreement Program, where they will front the cost of the paramedic training. Instead of money out of pocket, students will pay back their debt to the department with time and service.

EMT students will still earn salaries at work while taking the class at Midlands Technical College.

"The South Carolina EMS Association has done research and identified that there are needs for both levels of providers, particularly at the advanced level like paramedics with your larger services like your Greenvilles, Richlands, Lexingtons and Charlestons," said McCollum.

Each paramedic paired with an EMT is able to respond to the most serious 911 calls in our communities. With 14 graduates, that means 14 additional ambulances on our streets when we need them most.

"I do think times like these bring out the best in all of us," said Hood. "You hear stories every day of folks wanting to help their fellow citizen, and there's really no more noble way than through emergency services."

At the end of the class, students will need to pass a hands-on exam and cognitive exam before they can get certified to become a paramedic.

Midlands Tech's Paramedic Program holds class Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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