The next chapter could save someone's life; EMS education's role in a successful career

May 21, 2024
The next chapter could save someone's life; EMS education's role in a successful career

“The best advice I’ve ever received was to not forget to hit the sync button before you cardiovert,” said Claire Countryman, a 2024 Greenville Technical College graduate and Nationally Registered Paramedic. “I’m just kidding. Not really.”  

As Countryman has already discovered, humor can go a long way in your EMS career. But she knows the true key to success is education—both in the classroom and the real world.  

“My first night on a truck was nothing like learning in a classroom—you have to adapt to an ever-changing environment,” Countryman said. “However, classroom education helps you bring all the pieces of the problem together when determining a treatment plan.”  

Countryman already has some important wisdom to share with the next class of Paramedics and EMS clinicians—whether at her alma mater or elsewhere.  
“The chapter you are learning today is going to save someone’s life tomorrow,” she says. “Pay attention!” 

Greenville Technical College Paramedic graduates celebrate their National Registry certification. 

Meet the teacher  
Enter Chris Ruggiero, a Nationally Registered Paramedic and the academic program director of Emergency Medical Technology at Greenville Technical College, and one of Countryman’s instructors.  

“It is very validating when students have what I call their ‘EMS epiphany’ toward the end of training – that moment when they know they are going to be successful paramedics ready to enter the profession and competently take care of patients,” says Ruggiero. “As an instructor, I tell my students that I measure my success on your success.”  

Ruggiero began his journey in emergency medical services through an EMS explorer program, where he quickly discovered his passion for the field. He earned his EMT certification in 1995 and advanced to become a Nationally Registered Paramedic in 2002. After several years as a training officer, he transitioned to teaching full-time in 2011, dedicating himself to educating the next generation of EMS professionals. 

“I was fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career, and I realized I had a lot of knowledge to pass along to students,” Ruggiero said of his decision to become an EMS instructor.  

He says he misses working full-time in the field but realizes that may be the key to being a good instructor. “If you do not miss the field, you will not make a good instructor,” Ruggiero said. Regarding burned-out field medics who teach, Ruggiero simply stated that he doesn't believe they are effective. 

The significance of being Nationally Registered 
Countryman is one of 14 recent graduates from the Greenville program, all of whom gained National Registry certification upon successful completion.  

“I felt every ounce of anxiety walking into the testing room and walking out of it,” said Countryman. “The minute I found out I passed my written exam, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of relief.” She’s proud of her accomplishment of passing the National Registry Paramedic Certification Examination on the first attempt and realizes the importance of the certification.  

“The National Registry’s exam evaluates critical thinking,” Countryman said. “If you can’t think critically, you won’t be able to treat patients – it’s that simple.” She added that preparation for the National Registry Paramedic Certification Examination readied her in other ways, too. “That examination evaluates every part of a call that you might encounter and makes you aware of the possibilities,” she said. “We are working in unfamiliar environments, sometimes harsh or unclean, with multiple bystanders watching our every move. We have to be ready.”  

“At face value, students see the National Registry examination as their way into the career field – a test to apply what they’ve learned,” said Ruggiero. “But I know keeping their certification current will keep them relevant and they will continue to be prepared.”  

Burnout is real; be ready to combat it 
Both Countryman and Ruggiero acknowledge the challenges facing EMS as a profession and the difficulties individual clinicians encounter.  

“Police, fire, EMS, telecommunicators, military – we are at higher risk for mental health issues due to our relatively smaller number of personnel compared to the rest of society, so it is essential that we are aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout as well as the resources to prevent and resolve it,” said Ruggiero. “Self-care practices like having creative and physical outlets and non-EMS hobbies work well for me. Resiliency is key!” 

Countryman has witnessed firsthand the toll EMS careers can take, noting that burnout and mental health issues among clinicians can adversely affect patient care. 

“Burnout – that’s my biggest fear, and I think it is inevitable that most people in this job will face that at some point in their career,” Countryman said. “I don’t want to have happen to me what I’ve seen in others when they get angry or lazy and miss important information when treating patients.” Countryman maintains a healthy lifestyle and work-life balance to prevent burnout before it can affect her. 

Your education never stops 
Countryman may have joked about hitting the sync button, but she isn’t joking about learning.  

“Your education doesn’t stop after paramedic school ends,” Countryman said. “I get that the process feels like a chore to sit down and study, but you will realize there is so much more you will want to learn.” She encourages her fellow providers to attend conferences, training sessions, and meetings to discuss exciting and interesting calls.  

“Go the extra mile because it will make a difference in your patient care,” Countryman said.  
Ruggiero continues his education, too – in the field. “I want to remain relevant to my students,” he laughs. “So, I work part-time and pick up extra shifts when I can.” 

He has added motivation.  

“I enjoy running into former students ‘in the wild’. Seeing them excel and become great providers means so much to me.”  

Ruggiero offered one final piece of advice.  

“Do what is best for your patient and be able to articulate your clinical reasoning to the receiving physician,” he said. “That will carry you far in this career.”  

Read More Articles In The Critical Connection Series
James Avery - "An Unexpected Destiny - How One EMS Provider Discovered Sometimes Fate Has Other Plans"
Randy Brinckman - "From Special Forces to a special career"
Jessica Cervantez - "Be A Rock In The Moment People Are Falling Apart"
Savanna Coker - "Waves of change: A departure from the Baywatch narrative"
Claire Countryman & Chris Ruggiero - "The next chapter could save a life"
John Nemes - "The journey of an EMS chief"
Tom Perreault - "43 Years Down and a Lifetime to Go"
Justin Solobay - "A Night To Remember"
Meryah Wilson - "Calm and collected; an Ohio paramedic makes history with her city’s department"
Bill Wood -  "50 Consecutive Years Of National Registry Certification"

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Shane Cartmill
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