September 11, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 33

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New teaching model brings EMT training to rural areas


Allied Health

With 38 counties spread out over 50,000 square miles, South Texasí greatest barrier to health professions education is geographic distance. This barrier is a particular problem in the area of emergency medical technology (EMT) because many small rural communities rely heavily upon volunteer Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers. Travel expenses and loss of EMS coverage are not the only problems for communities that need to send EMS personnel out of town for training; EMS volunteers with other jobs simply canít take extended time off from work.

Working initially with the border community of Eagle Pass, the South Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the Department of Emergency Medical Technology in the School of Allied Health Sciences have discovered a way to overcome these barriers, bringing South Texas communities and EMS education programs closer together via interactive, audio-video telecommunications. Use of this technology is allowing more communities to increase both the number and quality of their EMS providers.

Photo courtesy of School of Allied Health Sciences
EMTs practicing on mannequin

"Texas is such a rural state, and the majority of its EMS is volunteer. These are people who have small businesses, who work on their farms or ranches, and they canít take off to travel to the big cities for training. To be able to bring the training to them is exceedingly important," said Sister Catherine Young, M.D., Eagle Pass EMS Medical Director.

Eagle Pass became the first community to benefit from this new training method in 1998. Sister Catherine Young, M.D., the cityís EMS medical director, approached AHEC and the EMT department for help in upgrading the cityís EMS services. The local fire department serves all of Maverick County, but the vast majority of its staff members were certified only in basic life support, the lowest level of EMT training.

With AHEC funding, the EMT department sent faculty 140 miles from San Antonio to Eagle Pass four days a week to teach an EMT intermediate course. This arrangement worked during June and July, when there was a break in courses at the Health Science Center, but once the new school year was under way, professors were not available to travel daily to Eagle Pass.

Eagle Pass also couldnít afford to have a large number of its EMS personnel traveling to San Antonio for five months of paramedic training. Maverick County is one of the poorest counties in the nation, but finances were not the only problem.

"We couldnít release people to go to San Antonio on a daily basis because it would leave the whole county without coverage," said Dr. Young. "On the other hand, if we sent just a few firefighters at a time to take the course, it would take forever to upgrade our services."

The solution was to offer the EMT paramedic course in Eagle Pass using VTEL equipment. The interactive, audio-video telecommunications equipment had already been purchased by the South Texas AHEC and was in place at United Medical Center in Eagle Pass with T-1 lines maintained through support from the South Texas/Border Region Health Professional Education Initiative (STBI). This equipment allowed Eagle Pass students to participate in a paramedic class taught in San Antonio.