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'It’s never too late to switch up your career'

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As an archaeologist, Michelle San Antonio has always been driven by a desire to learn and discover new things. But in 2018, she found that she was no longer at ease in the museums and historical non-profits that for years had served as the focal point of her career. Instead, the Johnsburg, New York woman found herself wondering if she had what it takes to work in EMS. 

Determined to find out, San Antonio approached her local EMS crew during an event on the town green. “Here I was, mid-career, no medical experience, but looking to change things up,” San Antonio recalls. “I’m really grateful they told me to go for it!” 

Today San Antonio works in EMS full-time as a paramedic, a graduate of the UVM Health Network – Elizabethtown Community Hospital’s (ECH) Paramedic Training Program. 

Since its launch in 2018, the course has welcomed more than 50 students from across six counties in northern New York, with graduates bringing a needed boost to a regional EMS community stretched thin. 

“Even before the pandemic, there was a desperate need for more paramedics in this part of the state,” says Bruce Barry, ECH Paramedic Program Director. “Our graduates are helping to elevate the level of care available to communities across the entire region.”

A Holistic Approach to Paramedic Training

Through classroom and online studies and more than 1,000 hours of hands-on training, students develop the skills necessary to perform life-saving procedures such as administering medications, performing airway management, and resuscitating and supporting patients with heart attacks and traumatic injuries. 

 “I liked that it was intensive and the accessibility of classroom and clinical locations was a huge draw for me,” says San Antonio, who received a scholarship from the ECH Auxiliary. 

Throughout the 15-month program, San Antonio pursued her paramedic studies once a week from a classroom in Queensbury, with students joining simultaneously from two other classroom locations in Malone and Lewis, New York. 

‘In-depth, hands-on experience’

San Antonio also spent hundreds of hours in clinical settings, learning from nurses, physicians and paramedics in emergency departments, operating rooms, obstetrics floors and ambulances.

What stood out was the diversity of patient experiences. “It’s not only about the number of hours you’re putting in,” says San Antonio. “This program really focuses on ensuring you get in-depth, hands-on experience with different types of patients and medical issues – cardiac troubles, pediatrics, gastrointestinal problems, trauma, labor and delivery – you’re exposed to an enormous amount.” 

San Antonio sharpened her clinical skills at five regional hospitals, including UVM Health Network providers at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Elizabethtown Community Hospital and its Ticonderoga campus. 

“Having a working knowledge of different regional hospitals – knowing what happens when your patient leaves your stretcher and how that differs from hospital to hospital – has made me a better provider and it definitely gave me a lot of confidence going into my internship,” San Antonio says.

A Sense of Community

The final phase of the program challenges students to serve as the lead paramedic as part of an internship with an EMS agency. Through real world patient encounters, students aim to determine their course of action and treatment plan without receiving assistance from their preceptor, a trained paramedic responsible for overseeing their activities. Now certified in New York State, San Antonio was recently offered a full-time position as a paramedic. 

“It’s never too late to switch up your career,” San Antonio says. “If you have an interest in putting your skills and maturity to use on behalf of your community, then get your basic level EMT card and join your local EMS agency. Not every day is running sirens and being the hero…some days you just need to be the person that helps pick grandma off the floor because she lost her balance again.”

Are you interested in a career as a paramedic? Learn more about the Elizabethtown Community Hospital’s Paramedic Training Program. Scholarships are available.

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