Caston Keeton Headshot

Caston Keeton works with EMS while studying as a paramedic student at EKU.

Caston Keeton is one of many Eastern Kentucky University paramedic students who has had firsthand experience working as a professional in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Keeton, there is generally not an easy path to graduating as a paramedic student, and the pandemic has only added to this stress by altering classroom learning with online courses. Virtual learning prohibited the amount of hands-on learning key to building confidence about what is being learned in the classroom before going into the field. 

“It was difficult to teach different topics online and a lot of students gave us feedback that it was not the kind of experience that they wanted to have,” said David Fifer, program director and assistant professor of emergency medical care. “It has been more challenging to teach and more challenging on the students.”

The EKU Emergency Medical Care Program prepares students for field work through training how to apply different patient care skills through simulations. The program has intense equipment that replicates actual emergency calls that paramedic students would experience in the field. The students practice proper healthcare procedures with a training ambulance and robotic mannequins that simulate real life patients. 

Clinical rotations have not been accepting students due to COVID-19, high workloads and employee burnout. As a result, the program has had to rely heavily on simulation training. For the past four semesters, the students have been severely impacted by the postponement of the certification exam.

During their time in the program, students ride along with ambulance and fire department services to gain hands-on experience working in the field. According to Fifer, the state of Kentucky’s minimum requirement is that students be involved in the treatment of 75 patients. EKU strives for their students to go beyond the minimum requirement, completing several hundred hours of clinical rotations and treating hundreds of patients. 

While in the field, a student professional worker in EMS operates at full practice under supervision. Preceptors supervise everything the students do so that they are never acting independently. The students are involved in every aspect of patient care. They treat medical emergencies anywhere from a gunshot, stabbing, car accident, stroke, or heart attack to individuals positive with COVID-19.

Three months before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, Keeton started working as an EMTB in Jessamine County, Kentucky. Keeton said he is excited to see what his career will bring.

“My favorite part is getting to interact with people and getting to the feeling that you saved someone’s life,” said Keeton, a senior emergency medical care major from Salyersville, Kentucky. “I am not in it for the gratitude, but I do enjoy seeing people’s day go from bad to better thanks to us. The hardest part is that you really have to desensitize yourself to seeing certain things.”

According to Keeton, pre-COVID-19 was relaxed, hospitals would let you come and go and there was more interaction between people calling for an emergency. With COVID-19, everyone is six feet apart, there is no interaction, you have to take extra precautions and cleaning measures are strict. Due to lockdowns, when EMTs enter a hospital their temperatures are immediately checked and they are asked questions about COVID-19 symptoms, slowing down the patient intake process.

“The pandemic has definitely shifted to where things are crazier and not set-in-stone anymore,” Keeton said. “In this career you have to roll with the punches anyways, but now with a pandemic you do not know if somebody is carrying COVID-19 and you have to take precautions for everybody.”

In the field, the professionals have to be hands-on despite a global pandemic. Keeton is often wearing one or two masks at a time when up-close with patients to protect everyone.

Fifer is a paramedic in Powell County, Kentucky. He believes that the field is experiencing an extreme burden from the virus; the working professionals are highly fatigued and burnt out. Fifer stated that the working professionals are heavily burdened by those who are unvaccinated, not wearing masks, and not staying home when sick. He explained the  increase in COVID-19 cases in Powell County is so extreme that on multiple occasions there has not been an ambulance available for the next 911 call.

“I think that there has been a disconnect between what we are facing as we take care of patients and the attitude of the public,” Fifer said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, following the CDC guidelines of staying home and monitoring your health to stop further spread of the virus will allow healthcare workers to prevent an  overload of COVID-19 patients. 

For more information about COVID-19 visit staywell.eku.edu. To view EKU’s COVID-19 dashboard showing the positive number of cases among students and employees visit staywell.eku.edu/dashboard. To fill out the Coronavirus monitoring form if exposed or experiencing symptoms visit staywell.eku.edu/covid-19-coronavirus-monitoring-form.

 

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