One of the most common questions I receive from EMTs who have just registered for paramedic school is “What should I start studying?” Most people are looking for answers such as studying various drugs and cardiac rhythms. Nobody expects you to be a paramedic day one of paramedic school. You will have plenty of time to learn pharmacology and different drug classes when they fit into the context of learning a specific topic, or learning to interpret rhythms when you are learning cardiology. There are a few things that you may want to consider doing before paramedic school starts that will hopefully prepare you to be a good paramedic.
Learn How to Learn
Do you highlight? Do you record all of your lectures? Do you typically re-read your textbooks shortly before an exam? Have you been out of school for a while?
Learning to learn is not as easy as it might sound but it has a great payoff. As a paramedic you will be required to use a lot of the knowledge you gain in paramedic school on a daily basis and be able to recall it quickly and under pressure. Here are a few resources to help you learn to learn.
What Works, What Doesn’t is a short guide to some successful and not so successful learning strategies - http://cpr.molsci.ucla.edu/cpr/data/library/400241/resources/res011/file/What%20Works%20in%20Learning%20Study.pdf
Make It stick – The Science of Successful Learning
This book provides a number of strategies for learning that are supported by evidence. You may be surprised by the strategies the authors suggest and those they identify as weak learning strategies. You can visit their website at http://makeitstick.net/ and their book is widely available.
If you don’t have time to read the entire book, here are a few tips from the authors - https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/make-it-stick/201406/make-it-stick-six-tips-students.
If you have some time, check out What the Best College Students Do by Ken Bain. I have not had time to read the entire book myself, but it appears to be another excellent resource. (Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/What-Best-College-Students-Do/dp/0674066642/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466615369&sr=8-1&keywords=what+the+best+college+students+do).
Study Anatomy & Physiology
….and maybe some biology and chemistry as well.
Most paramedic programs may require an A&P program built into the paramedic program, some require a college level anatomy & physiology course. Understanding anatomy & physiology underlies everything you do as a paramedic. Understanding some more general biology and chemistry will also help you with topics such as fluids & electrolytes, acid/base balance, and drug mechanisms.
There are numerous textbooks available on all of these topics, if you are looking to get a textbook try to find something that is both current and comprehensive. This will serve you as a reference throughout your program and for years to come.
You can also learn A&P, biology, and chemistry for free online at KhanAcademy. Plan on spending some time over at https://www.khanacademy.org/ both before and during paramedic school.
Read a Book for Some Perspective
There are a number of books out there on EMS as well as healthcare in general that are worth reading before, during, and after paramedic school. This list is by no means comprehensive but here are a few of my personal favorites (in no particular order).
People Care by Thom Dick
You will spend the rest of your career caring for people. This book is an incredible resource for learning how to take care of people. It appears to no longer be in print but is available relatively cheap as an epub at https://www.emergencystuff.com/people-care-epub-2e-for-ipad-and-nooks/.
A Paramedic’s Story: Life, Death, and Everything In Between by Steven “Kelly” Grayson
You will face a number of challenges as a paramedic, respond to some strange calls, and have many good and bad days throughout your career. Kelly’s book is not only fun to read, but provides a good primer for what lies ahead for you as a paramedic. WARNING: Once you start reading, this one is hard to put down. The book is currently out of print but you can find numerous editions available used online.
Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine by Peter Canning
I had been an EMT for seven years before I became a paramedic. When I first stepped on the truck as a paramedic student, my first day as a precepting paramedic, and my first day cleared it was different than I ever thought it would be. Peter Canning takes you through his journey from becoming an EMT to being a paramedic and shares a number of short stories that will definitely serve to inspire and excite you about being a paramedic (Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Paramedic-Front-Medicine-Peter-Canning/dp/0804116148/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466613478&sr=8-1&keywords=paramedic+on+the+front+lines+of+medicine ).
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
You will inevitably care for a number of patients at the end of their lives and this book will hopefully give you new perspective in caring for patients with chronic illnesses and those at the end of life. Any of Atual Gawande’s work is worth reading. This book has spent plenty of time on the New York Time’s bestsellers list and is a great read. (Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Being-Mortal-Medicine-What-Matters/dp/0805095152).
Don’t ask me which of these to read because my answer will be to read all of them.
Refresh/Review Weak Areas
There is a reason that being an EMT is a pre-requisite for paramedic school. You are expected to arrive with a knowledge base that you should have gained as an EMT. This will also help you with an important lesson in becoming a paramedic, it is important to know what you don’t know. Here are a few ideas to help you identify your weaknesses and review.
Check out http://www.easyauscultation.com/ and review your lung sounds as well as some medical terminology.
If you are currently practicing as an EMT, start looking up all of your patient’s medications, ALL of them. Also look up conditions listed in their medical history. Websites like http://emedicine.medscape.com/ require a free account but provide a wealth of information about different medications and conditions. This will continue to be a valuable tool throughout paramedic school.
Limmer Creative has a number of flashcard apps that will test your EMT level knowledge and provide you explanations to the question answers. http://limmercreative.com/group/emt/. This will also help you prepare for the type of testing you will encounter in paramedic school.
An EMT textbook may be good to supplement your review but if you are a practicing EMT, re-reading the textbook will probably not be a beneficial use of your time. Identifying your weaknesses and focusing your review will provide greater benefit and better use of your time.
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