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Rob Walker, left, education manager for Susquehanna Valley EMS watches as Emergency Medical Technicians Erin Grucelski, right and Jenn Putt, center, check an equipment bag at their station in Lancaster on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.

As you look to start or revamp your career in the new decade, considering which positions are in demand and offer stability, opportunity and growth has never been more important.

Emergency medical technician is one such career, and one facing shortages, not just locally but across the state and nation. The Lancaster County outlook projects employment growth at almost 15% between 2016 and 2026, and 13% for the state, according to the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

Many of us have probably never thought about emergency medical technicians unless involved in an emergency, but this a profession worthy of consideration. EMTs provide pre-hospital care in a variety of locations and may see patients in moments of crisis. As an entry-level position, this is one way to start a health care career.

First and foremost, who makes a good EMT?

Rick Pearson, director of education for Lancaster EMS and Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences EMS program director, says personal conviction and fulfillment play a large role in the decision. Good EMTs are resilient, willing to work, and take care of patients with empathy.

The ideal person, according to Rob Walker, Susquehanna Valley EMS education manager, is a self-starter, compassionate and empathetic, and someone who enjoys helping others without a lot of recognition. It’s a balance finding students interested in science who also care about people.

Both say some EMTs use the position as a stepping stone to move on to other health care professions and complete the required patient contact hours before, or while furthering, their education. Others become EMTs as a second career or a change from a humdrum job.

The two services approach educating EMTs differently. While both are equally viable and accredited, one may appeal more depending on lifestyle or personal preference.

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences and Lancaster EMS collaborate on an EMT program. The traditional one-semester program of 260 hours of academic, clinical and field time, and ancillary certifications, runs for four and a half months. Classes are held three times a year and admit up to 40 students per class. All applications are accepted through the college. For more information, visit pacollege.edu/academics/health-sciences-certificate-programs/emergency-medical-technician-emt-certificate/.

Lancaster EMS also offers financial scholarships to current or family members of employees who after certification commit to one year of employment with the service.

Susquehanna Valley EMS, motivated by the shortage of qualified professionals, decided to create a training institute to recruit and develop new EMTs. The model they settled on is one used by many fire and police departments. Walker says investing in training and offering opportunities will result in employees willing to grow with the organization.

Qualified, screened applicants are hired and on day one receive uniforms and start their education. Susquehanna Valley EMS has taken the four- to five-month program and condensed it into a full-time, Monday-to-Friday learning environment that is completed in six weeks. With 12 spots offered in each session, they recently graduated their third class. Visit svems.org/training-institute for more information.

With both theoretical classroom and hands-on work, the repetitive training aims to develop “muscle memory” to respond to situations so the focus remains on patient care rather than the mechanics. Much of the training is learning how to move patients safely.

Often EMTs are not responding to life-threatening emergencies but to someone who has called 911 for assistance. “If you think this job is all about driving around fast with lights and sirens, it’s not the job for you,” Walker says.

But these routine calls can be as trying as the most critical 911 calls. Many are interfacility transports or other services for patients who possibly are bed-confined and need transport assistance. The EMT is there as a patient advocate, working to calm them and bring some normalcy to what may be a chaotic situation.

Lancaster EMS responds to over 100 calls a day using 11 emergency trucks during the day and seven overnight in addition to 10 to 15 transport trucks, some of which move patients long distance. In 2018, they answered over 37,800 requests, providing advanced and basic life support, quick-response service and various transport services.

Schedules, while regular, are not Monday to Friday and differ from organization to organization. For example, Lancaster EMS schedules their crews on a two week rotation, working seven days on with seven days off. Susquehanna Valley EMTs work 12-hour rotating shifts, either day or night, on duty three days one week and four the next. Both approaches offer the clinicians work-life balance and time with their families. The time off is also recuperative and vitally important.

For those whose career must-have list includes variability and constant change, Pearson counsels that, if you’re looking for serendipity, become an EMT. “Yes, it’s helping people, but it’s so much more.”