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Kirkwood EMS programs offer hands-on learning, career opportunities

Kirkwood EMS programs offer hands-on learning, career opportunities
EMS students work on an emergency drill using a manikin at Kirkwood’s Katz Family Healthcare Simulation Center in Cedar Rapids. (Photo courtesy Kirkwood Community College)

As a high school student in North Liberty, Emma Hall wasn’t sure exactly what career she wanted to pursue, but she knew it would involve helping others.

“I always knew I wanted to help people, but I didn’t know the best way to do that,” she said.

Hall’s natural curiosity and desire to help others has led her to pursue a career in emergency medicine through programs offered by Kirkwood Community College.

As a high school student, Hall took anatomy and physiology courses through Kirkwood, which piqued her interest in emergency medicine. During the summer after her senior year she completed Kirkwood’s EMT program. With her EMT certification in hand, Hall took a job as a technician at Kirkwood’s Katz Family Healthcare Simulation Center in Cedar Rapids, the first fully integrated, multidisciplinary health care simulation center in Iowa.

Not content to limit her education to the classroom, Hall has continued to pursue professional opportunities that allow her to apply her medical training in the field. Part of her EMT program included ride-alongs with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, and those experiences inspired her to take a job at the North Liberty Fire Department.

“I really loved the EMT program, and I always want to know more,” she said. That curiosity led her to Kirkwood’s paramedic program, a two-year associate degree program that will qualify her to take the National Registry Certification exam and become a certified paramedic.

After beginning the paramedic program, Hall took a job at the Johnson County Ambulance Service so she could apply the skills she was learning in her courses.

“My parents taught me at a young age that it’s okay to be scared or nervous about doing something, but that isn’t an excuse to not do it,” Hall said. “Everything I do is a little bit scary—it’s a job where you can never get comfortable. But being uncomfortable, even scared, is okay. It shouldn’t stop you from doing it.”

One of the most enjoyable parts of her job is the personal connections she makes with patients.

“I like the patient interaction,” she said. “I like connecting with them, getting to know them as a person, because they really count on you, so establishing an equal connection and having a back-and-forth conversation is important.

Kirkwood offers certification programs for emergency medical responders, emergency medical technicians, advanced emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Iowa residents enrolled in these programs may qualify for tuition assistance through the Kibbie Grant, which covers up to half of tuition costs, based on financial need, for certain community college programs.

Only about one-third of paramedics and EMTs are women, according to 2021 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, but Hall said she doesn’t feel out of place as a female EMT.

“There are enough women in my field that I don’t feel nervous. It doesn’t make me feel different,” Hall said. “I know I’m not alone. Everything I do I can find at least someone I can connect with.”

Kirkwood encourages its paramedic students to explore a variety of fields, which Hall appreciates.

“They encourage you to go everywhere,” she said. “They have good sanding with a lot of different places and they want you to use your clinical hours to see what you like. They are willing to do whatever it takes to get you where you want to go, whether it’s Des Moines or Iowa City or Cedar Rapids. They have good relationships with a lot of hospitals and ambulance services, but they also encourage you to get on a fire truck and see how that works.”

In addition to teaching coursework, Kirkwood faculty make sure to share their own work experiences.

“I love the instructors,” Hall said. “They have all worked at different places, and we get to learn from all of their experiences. Those are the things that will make all of us really good paramedics.”

Hall hasn’t decided which area she wants to work in after completing her program, but she’s confident that she made the right choice in coming to Kirkwood.

“For anyone else who thinks that emergency medicine might be the path for them, Kirkwood is the place to do it,” Hall said. “It can be scary to start the process, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing something you may be good at.”