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July 22, 2020

Johnson County Community College proudly trains many essential workers in our community, and that training didn’t – couldn’t – stop when campus shut down in March amid COVID-19 concerns. JCCC professors served as essential workers to provide adaptive training to these students – future essential workers.

"Becoming a paramedic during normal times and circumstances is exceptionally challenging due to the nature of the job,” said Scott Craig, JCCC EMS Professor. “Becoming one in an exclusively online environment is impossible. When campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were left with a stool with only one leg. Students needed to learn the cognitive, classroom material inside and out and then be able to apply that in an integrated lab environment all while learning the intangible aspects of empathy and compassion, leadership and integrity.”

Craig and his professor colleagues in the JCCC program are all paramedics. One thing they’ve learned from life experience is that circumstances always change, causing them to adapt and overcome.

“Stopping in place would have only hurt our students, so we gave them Spring Break to come to grips with the pandemic and hit the ground running the week after,” Craig said. “We performed classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with optional reviews on Tuesdays.”

On June 1, the JCCC EMS program resumed face-to-face instruction with strict guidelines. Students only entered campus buildings for exams and to use the restroom. Otherwise, they were outside around campus or in the parking garage on hot and humid days. Students and staff wore masks and maintained social distancing as much as possible. Stringent cleaning of the equipment and patient simulators was required. Students and staff were screened every day using CDC and KDHE COVID-19 questionnaires and contactless thermometers.  

"We have been training paramedics for more than 35 years and have never had to make such changes to the delivery of students’ education,” Craig said. “Our students will still receive the same education. An EMS provider must perform at a high level not just with their knowledge but also their hands and their heart.”

Craig said it took a lot of work within the program to develop the specific protocols the group would operate under and to obtain the necessary personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies necessary to mitigate risk as much as possible.

It is no easy task to intubate (place a breathing tube) while wearing a mask in 100-degree heat, Craig explained.

“However, EMS in the field does not take the day off due to rain or heat or snow,” he said. “So, while the students may not appreciate it until later in their careers, this is building a resilience that previous classes did not have. It also is teaching them how to manage an EMS call within the parameters of a pandemic; something they will need in the future.”

Craig said that JCCC’s paramedic course usually runs from January through December, but due to issues relating to the pandemic, the current class should have a January 2021 graduation date.

“We need our students to stay in the moment and focus on obtaining the knowledge and skills of a paramedic and not worry about what will happen in the future. It is a difficult task and a tall order, but overcoming obstacles is what we do best.”

Student reflections:

“The biggest challenge was trying to get back into the groove of the physical aspect of our training. Going from all book work to applying it has been the most difficult aspect so far. The best part was the creative solutions for reviewing and lectures that our instructors came up with. The worst part was not being able to be with my classmates in person for the weeks when we were in quarantine.” – Celia Stout, Paramedic student

“When we first learned about the school closing, I was worried. I’ve worked really hard to make it into this program. It’s taken me so long to find my passion. I did not want to lose this opportunity. I am a very hands-on learner. Not having the chance to learn new material and getting to work through it in scenarios shortly thereafter was tough.” – Angelica Brown, Paramedic student and Army veteran