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Grande Prairie polytechnic to launch training program for paramedics in the Peace Region

Starting this fall, Northwestern Polytechnic in Grande Prairie will be offering a year-long primary care paramedic certificate program. 

It’s aimed to train first responders how to transport patients from emergency scenes and between healthcare facilities. 

The program will be the first of its kind offered in the Peace Region. 

In Alberta, primary care paramedics serve as first responders during emergency situations, and may treat patients on-scene or in ambulances to administer life-saving procedures. 

Luke Umble, chair of the emergency services department at Northwestern Polytechnic, said there’s a shortage of EMS workers in the region. 

“We’re hoping that by providing this program here in northwestern Alberta and the Peace Region, that we’re going to grow local talent, and we’re going to bring in people that want to go back into the communities and serve in a pre-hospital care profession,” he said.

The theoretical portion of the program will be taught online, and students will complete 10 weeks of hands-on learning at the institution’s health education centre, located at Grande Prairie Regional Hospital.

Courses in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and professional practices will be offered. 

“The field of pre-hospital care is broad. They have an incredible wealth of knowledge and incredible depth of application of their skills and knowledge. So, we’re going to maintain that rigour,” said Megan Stone, dean of the health faculty.

The practical component of the program will allow students to work with mannequins and run through simulated emergency scenarios. 

A male human-like mannequin in a hospital gown.
Paramedics-in-training will practice their skills on human-like mannequins. (Dennis Kovtun/CBC)

The mannequins are designed to mimic biological human functions.

“These mannequins are high fidelity, meaning that they react. So, when we increase their breathing rates, their chests actually move up and down. When they shine a flashlight in their eyes, their pupils will constrict,” Umble said. 

The first cohort will have 18 students. Applications for the program opened last week. 

Standard first aid and CPR certification can be assets for applicants, Umble said. Prior training in pre-hospital care — such as the emergency medical responder course, would also be advantageous.

Two seats in the program are reserved for Indigenous students. 

“When we’re offering seats to Indigenous students, we’re going to have that representation and diversity matters within the health-care profession,” Stone said. 

“I believe it’ll start setting the bar for other programs to incorporate this type of policy,” said Tim Ford, registrar at the Alberta College of Paramedics. 

Work in rural Alberta

The hope is that graduates of the new program will stay and work in northern Alberta, including the smaller communities.

A woman with long brown hair wearing a grey mock neck shirt.
Megan Stone, dean of the faculty of health at Northwest Polytechnic, said the program will offer two designated seats to Indigenous students. (Dennis Kovtun/CBC)

“We know when we train rural — students tend to stay rural,” Stone said. 

Ford said working in rural communities is beneficial for new paramedics starting their careers.

When a paramedic works in a large urban area, such as Edmonton or Calgary, they deal with a higher volume of calls, and the intensity and acuity of these calls can be high.

“If you get overwhelmed in Calgary, sometimes the option is to call additional units in, or the fire department,” he said. 

“But when I worked rural, you really were the only ambulance for miles and miles, and so you are on your own and you become self-reliant. I think that really helps expand your confidence and expand your skill set as well.”

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