Katy ISD introduces students to field of emergency medicine
When Laurie Conrad was a firefighter with the Katy Fire Department, students from Katy Independent School District rode with her in an ambulance as part of their Career and Technical Education clinical rotations.
Now she’s a first-year emergency medical technician instructor at the district’s Miller Career & Technology Center and works with students on the rest of that curriculum.
Course coordinator David Watson has been teaching emergency medical technology to students for 12 years in the Katy ISD and also has an EMS/firefighting background like Conrad.
To be part of the 14-year-old program, a student has to be 17 by the start of September and must submit two applications: one for the Miller center and the other for the EMT program. The program is open to seniors at every district high school.
“We have about 80 slots,” said Watson, who explained the screening process looks at a student’s attendance, grade-point average and any discipline infractions.
“This is a rigorous course program,” said Watson. “We don’t want to set up kids for failure.”
Requirements include 36 hours of ambulance clinical and 12 hours of emergency room clinical. The state minimum is 180 didactic hours, said Watson. “We far exceed them with 338 didactic hours and 48 clinical hours.” Students earn two high school credits for the class and are required to pass a skills test that tests 15 areas.
“We (career technology) are here to help students who want the first taste of a career they’re interested in or may be interested in,” said Watson. “It gives an ability to those students who may not go to college or a university the opportunity to jump-start a career and go onto trade school. We know that all kids aren’t going to college. That’s OK. We need people who aren’t going to college. We need EMTs who get certification.”
When students are riding on an ambulance with area fire departments, Watson and Conrad want to make sure that the student interacts well with real patients. Applying students also must submit a letter of intent on why they want to enter the EMT program. Besides the Katy department, students also do rotations with the Community Volunteer Fire and the Westlake Fire departments.
“They are hands-on and part of the crew,” said Conrad.
Russell Wilson, who became Katy fire chief in 2016, said the program predates his appointment, but calls it a good partnership.
“We do it every year.” The city renewed its affiliation agreement with the school district EMS education program for education and training purposes on June 25.
The program is in addition to their regular curriculum. Watson and Conrad said the program helps students understand why the core courses they’re required to take are important.
“This is why you need to know physics to know what happens to a body when it falls 20 feet out a window,” Conrad said.
Watson, who took an EMT course in high school, said he understands how difficult it can be to juggle core courses with extracurricular courses.
“It really starts to teach them priorities and time management,” he said. “What do I need to do to be successful.”
Conrad attended Katy High School.
“We didn’t have anything like this then. I did not get into EMS until I was in my 30s. I wasted so much time before I figured out this was my passion,” she said.
Because students apply to be part of the program, Conrad said it’s something that they’re interested in.
“They work harder. They have goals to become a professional in that area of expertize. They do really get engaged in what we’re teaching.”
Watson said, “We’re offering them a chance to get certification.”
Upon graduation and receiving their certificate, they can begin to work.
“It’s a good starting place for a career. It’s an opportunity to work their way through college,” said Watson, which is what he did. He earned a A.A.S. in emergency medical technology and fire science from San Jacinto College.
Through social media, Watson keeps tabs on where students are after they graduate. A lot of them are in the medical field. They work as EMTs or paramedics at area fire departments or LifeFlight, as nurses, physicians and military medics. Sometimes the course serves to let students know that this isn’t what they want to do at all.
Students must buy a uniform and a cardiopulmonary resuscitation card which amount to less than $60. Essentially, they are taking an EMT course for free, said Watson, comparing that to $2,000 in tuition at a local community college.
As long as students meet program requirements, the district will pay for their first attempt to pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.
Conrad said this is the same course that she and Watson took to get certification. “Our experience and expertise in the field translates to the students.”
There are changes, too. When both took the course terrorism wasn’t a chapter in the textbook like it is now. And students have a state of the art lab with mannequins and a built-in ambulance to set up scenarios and practice their skills in a safe place before they do hands-on patient care.
The lab was on Watson’s wish list. ’It’s great. It shows we’re focusing on things that our community needs and that’s EMTs.”
“Katy ISD has been great in giving us the tools we need to teach these kids,” said Watson. “Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security” is one of 13 career clusters offered through the district’s Career and Technical Education.
“Our goal is to keep expanding this program,” said Watson who remembered having eight EMT students when he started 12 years ago. And before locating at Miller, EMT students studied at either Morton Ranch or Seven Lakes high schools.
Conrad is a Texas certified paramedic, firefighter, telecommunicator and EMS instruction. She was introduced to EMS about 15 years ago. Watson has been in EMS and firefighting for 27 years having worked for Clear Lake EMS and the Friendswood Fire Department.
This class will open students’ eyes to what the world is like, said Watson. “You see the bad and good and you may see it all on one shift. You have a call and it’s someone stabbed someone and someone overdosed on drugs and the next call is delivering a baby. They’re going to see it all.”