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For paramedics, cadaver training a rare, welcome opportunity

EMT Cadaver Lab

Christopher DeVargas

EMT students practice complex medical procedures on a cadaver during a hands-on lab at MedCare Surgical Center in Henderson on April 22, 2011.

EMT Cadaver Lab

EMT students practice complex medical procedures on a cadaver during a hands-on lab at MedCare Surgical Center in Henderson on April 22, 2011. Launch slideshow »

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To be eligible for AMR’s CCT training course, applicants must be a licensed paramedic with at least three years of full-time experience. The selection process consists of a multiple-choice test and an interview. To learn more about the course and to register, email CCT coordinator Steve Johnson at [email protected]. The twice-yearly course will be offered again in July.

In the middle of a sterilized room in a nondescript Henderson office park, 13 students dressed in blue scrubs huddle around a body lying on a cold metal table.

The pale, tan-colored cadaver was once a California man in his senior years.

Now, his body — donated to medical science — is helping to teach paramedics some of the skills necessary to save a life.

This is not a class for the fainthearted, or for just any emergency medical technician.

The students gathered at MedCure’s Henderson office, 2455 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway, are part of American Medical Response and MedicWest’s critical care technician program, a three-week course for the highest level of paramedics.

It’s a world-class training opportunity.

Just a few training centers across the country enable paramedics to obtain the CCT designation, which allows EMTs to perform dangerous and complex medical procedures that can’t be administered by general EMTs. The training program in Henderson is one of two such programs west of the Mississippi River, MedicWest Operation Manager Tony Greenway said.

As part of the 116-hour program, students spend a day in a cadaver lab, putting skills learned from textbooks into practice.

“You can learn by listening and watching, but this is learning by doing,” Greenway said. “It’s dramatically important for the quality of medical education.”

Led by two University Medical Center physicians, paramedics and nursing students practiced tracheal intubations (inserting a breathing line into the throat) and tracheotomies to maintain and create airways. They inserted a central-line catheter to administer medication and performed a chest examination to practice differentiating internal organs.

Although these same procedures can be practiced on special plastic simulations, it’s only through working with cadavers that EMTs can truly understand what it feels like to work on a human body, Greenway said.

“With modeling, it only goes so far,” he said. “These aren’t mannequins.” Dr. Jeff Westin, a UMC physician who recently taught the cadaver lab, agreed: “This is a rare opportunity for a lot of people. This is the best preparation outside of a real scenario.”

Since it was founded four years ago, the local program has graduated about 80 paramedics from across the country. Most are MedicWest paramedics who are sponsored by the company. It also caters to CCT-certified paramedics looking to retool and hone their skills.

Paramedic Tony Bland, 43, is one of those graduates. The continuing education student, who lives in Las Vegas, returned to the cadaver lab for the second time to learn new medical techniques and sharpen his emergency paramedic skills.

Six years ago, Bland was a combat medic in Iraq. He said the military doesn’t offer cadaver lab training.

Although he said he was nervous the first time, Bland, who works for MedicWest in Las Vegas, seemed unfazed by the prospect of working on a cadaver.

“If you had any hesitations to begin with, this helps,” Bland said. “This is a definite confidence-builder -- it’s real-life training.”

For first-time student Rebecca Donnon, 33, of Henderson, achieving the CCT designation has been her goal since the Henderson program began four years ago.

“It’s really exciting to be able to expand my knowledge and skills,” she said after practicing sliding a 7-cm plastic tube down the cadaver’s trachea to establish an airway. “They’re partially frozen, so it’s a little more difficult here than in the field.”

Most of the students in the class were local paramedics who will return to valley EMT services. Greenway, who oversees the training, said he hopes the groundbreaking program will help “raise the bar” for health care in Southern Nevada.

“This is something we’re really proud of,” he said. “It’s one of our best-kept secrets.”

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