7 Steps to Success in High School EMT Programs


I have been an educator for the better part of 40 years. The last academic year was the first high school EMT class I ever taught. Educator friends and online colleagues shared stories of immaturity and mayhem in the high school experience. I began with a fair amount of nervousness as the class approached. Since you are reading this article, I suspect you know the outcome. My first high school class was one of the most challenging and rewarding classes I ever taught. I am hooked. As I reflect on my first class (and in the middle of my second), I tried to pick out some of the things that made it a success—and things I am now doing differently. While I suspect I am preaching to the choir, I’d like to share some things I have learned.

Here are 7 Steps to success in a high school EMS program.

1. Treat Them Largely Like an Adult…But Remember That They Are Ultimately Teens and High Schoolers

One of the things I decided early on was that I wasn’t going to start with the mindset that these were kids. They are taking an Emergency Medical Technician class as dual credit college students. Both EMS and college imply (relative) adulthood—and I went for it. I didn’t shelter them. I spiced up class with an occasional real-life street story from my years of experience, and I expected them to hold themselves like EMTs in class. And it worked.

2. Earn and Keep Their Trust

A core concept in public safety is respect. You respect your patient. You respect yourself. You respect and trust your partner. This is how we work together in challenging situations. When you build a relationship of trust and respect with your students, interesting things happen that transcend the classroom. This is one of the ways we recognize our students are young—and need us. From college hopes and dreams to career advice to frank conversations about family issues, trust is the foundation that allows us to make the difference we hear so much about in education.

How do we earn trust? I’m not sure there is a definitive recipe, but you must care, follow through on promises, and be approachable. You can say you are approachable, but it isn’t about words. It is about being present enough to see a change in a student and know something is different or wrong. You can open the door and hope the student comes through for help at that point.

3. Never Let Them See You Sweat

At times felt like I was walking a tightrope without a net. Especially in the early days. As I look back, it was the students who helped me feel comfortable and succeed. I believe that hesitancy, indecision, and lack of confidence are the precursors to an unsuccessful program. Students can tell. Develop a solid plan—and never let them see you sweat.

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4. Make Sure Students Are Allowed To Walk The Walk

My college has a foundation that supplies equipment for my EMT students. I still remember the day we went to the bookstore and got their stethoscopes, penlights, trauma shears, and other EMS equipment. I also remember the day they first came to class in uniform. If there are uniforms or tools of the trade in your student’s program, always take the time to let them feel the weight of those tools. Feel the excitement of holding those tools for the first time. Feel the wonder of wearing the uniform for the first time. Acknowledge their feelings and share them with them. Take pictures. Then relate their feelings to the career they are exploring. Explain the responsibility of the uniform and how to uphold that responsibility. Let them walk the walk.

5. Set Expectations-And Follow Through

I may have struggled here the most. If you asked me, the biggest mistake I made was spending too much time engaging and learning and not enough testing. It is vital to have expectations—and regular testing helps set appropriate expectations. A colleague taught me If you want students to learn superficially, test them superficially. If you want them to learn comprehensively, test them comprehensively— educator words to live by.

6. Engage, Apply, Excite

Now that I have made the point about expectations out of the way, the most significant thing we can do as far as techniques is to engage, apply, excite. While I treat my students primarily as adults, I recognize the need to push the envelope as far as creating a dynamic learning environment. After spending a few weeks on the basics, we begin a case-based learning approach. It goes like this over four 1.5 hour sessions: • Monday – Lecture and learning activities • Tuesday – students assess a simulated patient. This is also uniform day (walk the walk). • Wednesday – students go to the lab to explore treatments and skills they would use on the patient. • Thursday – case presentations. Students present their patients to the class. This includes assessment, differential diagnosis, and treatment plans. Faculty who teach in other EMT programs at my college consistently tell me how the high school EMT students act more professionally than the other EMT students on campus and outperform them clinically as well.

7. Above All, They Are There To Learn

The balance of the 6 points above brings us to the final point: It is always about learning. Learning is the foundation of what we do, how we prepare our high school students for success in anything they do, and how we send them out the door successful and confident. We teach. They learn. Trust, respect, feeling, expecting, engaging. The hub all these spokes emerge from is learning. I’m in my second year of teaching a high school EMT class. I thought my first class may have been a fluke. They were awesome, and I still miss them. My second class seems to be on the same path. I don’t take attendance because the students always show up— as do I. And we are going to do it again.

I wouldn’t miss it.

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The original source for the content in this blog post is from: https://hosa.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/HOSA_EMagazine_Winter_proof-2.pdf

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


About the Author

Dan Limmer

Instructor at Galveston College EMS Program & Co-Founder and Chief Knowledge Officer for Limmer Education