I made the decision to take an EMT class after talking with a Chicago Fire Department Captain last summer, who told me that the best way to get into the department was to become a paramedic. I did some research and found out that Malcolm X College (one of the City Colleges of Chicago) had an EMT program that used to be exclusive to CFD. I went through the application process, bought my books, watch, uniform, sphygmomanometer and stethoscope, and headed to class twice a week.
The class was scheduled to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00pm to 8:00pm, and was a lecture completed with powerpoint. As a homeschooled student who then transitioned to Shimer discussion classes, this was very foreign to me. My teachers (all of whom were either current or retired paramedics or firefighters, most of them with the Chicago Fire Department) made the class engaging by relating what we were talking about to the experiences they had while on the job. We never sat for the entire five hours, and the lecture corresponded exactly to the chapter in the textbook (another new thing for me: textbooks).
When the first big test came, I panicked. I reread all of my chapters, looked over my notes, but still only managed to squeak into an 86%. How do you study??
I polled my friends at other universities, started to make flashcards, and tried to find other practice tests. I kept barely missing the A-grade of 92 and up, and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. In class, I was doing really well. We were called on frequently to answer questions from the chapter or the lecture, and I frequently knew the answers, but the tests were driving me crazy. The practicals, which involved doing a hands-on assessment on a mannequin or classmate (including taking blood pressure and pulse, holding cervical spine stabilization, administering oxygen, and strapping the patient to a backboard to immobilize them), I was okay on after a few times of practice.
I was feeling discouraged until the Midterm, at which point my grades started to pick up and I got closer and closer to the A-level grade I wanted. The tests were tricky on purpose, and you had to read them carefully in order to not choose the wrong answer. Sometimes you were given irrelevant information, and sometimes not enough information (I would read into these questions often and end up with the wrong answer).
I think without the close-reading practice that Shimer had given me, I wouldn’t have done as well in the class. I was so worried at the beginning about memorizing all of the information. But the practicals, lectures, and tests were about the critical thinking process that an emergency care provider had to go through. No two patients would be the same, even if their problem presented the same way. When I did ride-alongs and clinical hours with hospitals, the Chicago Fire Department paramedics, and a private ambulance company, it drove the point home that the purpose was not to test me on the facts I could spit out, but on what the best course of action was.
When I finished my last practical exam on December 12 and got ready to leave the class for the last time, my teacher pulled me aside. “It was a real pleasure to have you in class,” he said. “I know you’re right in the middle of your education, and I hope to god you go farther than paramedic school. You should be practicing medicine. You are a true critical thinker.”
It was the highest form of praise I could receive.