City's offer: Get paid to become a Honolulu EMT
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By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer
By Treena Shapiro
With 18 percent of Honolulu's emergency medical technician and paramedic positions vacant, the city has decided to start paying people to learn the job.
In July, the city will begin a certification program for EMTs and pay students $2,917 a month plus benefits if they commit to working here for two years.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for people to learn some skills, get some training, open the door to the health profession and get paid while doing it," said Dr. Elizabeth Char, director of the city's Department of Emergency Services. "Our program is enticing because a lot of people, if they're working or are a single parent, find it's very difficult to quit your job and go to school."
EMTs assist paramedics as part of an ambulance crew.
Currently, potential EMTs must pay for classes at a community college.
City officials stress they are not trying to steal people away from the community colleges, which train about 40 EMTs a year, but instead want to cast a wider net and increase the total number of trainees.
Since the candidates will be expected to work for the city for two years following their training, the academy would also help the city to recruit and retain its trainees, whereas those who are college-trained might go on to work for private ambulance companies, take federal jobs or use their training to get into nursing or medical school.
The different programs would potentially appeal to different types of EMT candidates: those who want the college experience and those who want on-the-job training.
Ian Santee, the acting EMS training coordinator, said that the city's program will be more like the firefighter recruit academy than college.
"You do activities where you're being trained as an emergency medical technician. The primary difference is you're being paid on duty to get this training," he said.
The EMT training program would teach recruits how to offer basic life support intervention, set splints, perform CPR and otherwise assist paramedics, who provide more advanced life support, such as intravenous access, breathing tubes and administering some medications.
"We'll deliver a baby and we'll even pronounce you dead," Santee said. "Those are the extremes, but we're beginning to end."
For the city, the new academy also will help ensure a greater pool of paramedics.
This is particularly important because becoming an EMT is a stepping stone to becoming a paramedic, and at least half of the EMTs will leave within two years to go into the paramedic program.
"We could use more paramedics," Char said. "There's a shortage if you look at the number of paramedics across the state."
CONCERNS ABOUT PLAN
One who questions the new academy, however, is Edward Kalinowski, chairman of Kapi'o-lani Community College's Department of Emergency Medical Services. He said he has reservations about the city's plan to offer an alternative to the nationally-ranked EMT program at his institution. "They're a service provider, not an educational institution," he said.
He questions whether the city can offer the same quality of training and whether those who go through the academy will meet the requirements for paramedic training. He also wonders whether there will be the capacity to provide clinical training for both college students and academy recruits.
On the other hand, "We are short of people," he said. "We need people in the field and this is a short-term method of meeting those needs."
Rather than the city and community college working independently, he'd like to see the two combine efforts.
EMS public information officer Bryan Cheplic said that the academy is the only project it is taking on independently from the community college.
"We currently partner with KCC on all of our training endeavors and will continue doing so in the future," he said.
Students enrolled in Kapi'olani Community College's EMT program said they see advantages to learning in both types of settings, be it college or a training academy.
Pay is always a good thing, they say, but so is college.
In addition to his EMT training, student Michael Thompson has been taking the prerequisite classes to enter the mobile intensive care technician, or paramedic, program, which requires at least one year's experience as an EMT.
He thinks that going through a college program shows a commitment the city won't be able to get through its own EMT academy.
Nadine Moritsugu, 23, said it all depends on the person. She'd recommend KCC's program, but can see the appeal in getting paid to learn to do the same job.
"It's a pretty good option both ways," she said.
Reach Treena Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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