I've been feeling high these past several days. Hopefully, it'll last for a while without it getting to my head.That "Impostor" feeling
All these years as volunteering as a First Responder, especially with the Red Cross's First Aid Services Team (F.A.S.T.), deep down I kinda felt like.... an impostor. Sure, I can say that I had field experience in "dirt medicine", and that's extremely valuable. But for a lot of medical organizations/groups out there, they never heard of an EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) certification, which was where I was at. I had to explain to them what an EMR was, and that it was almost
essentially the same thing as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).
But unlike EMT, EMR is not a national certification. So if I wanted to volunteer or work a gig in some First Responder type capacity, the minimum level of skills was usually EMT. Sometimes, I was able to volunteer for, let's say... the wildfire relief efforts... then I would be able to get into it with just an EMR cert. Again though, I had to initially explain to the volunteer coordinators what an EMR was. O_o
Matthew from F.A.S.T. was right: if you have your EMT cert, then it opens sooooo many more doors, with people asking a lot less questions.
In my early years of volunteering for F.A.S.T., I also remember Gary admonishing me, "You don't have your EMT yet? C'mon, Derek!" And another time, Matthew thought I had my EMT, but I actually didn't; not his fault -- he didn't know at the time b/c I was too embarrassed to say I failed the notorious NREMT, which is an exam certification all EMTs need to have.
Deep down, I was too scared of the NREMT for a # of reasons: I didn't feel like taking classes and studying again; and I was a bad baaad test taker. Looking back, my fear of the NREMT probably stemmed from the fact that I didn't do too well academically in college. So I think I let that held me back. Eventually though, you get sick of being scared.
And that's what happened to me.First failed attempts
Finally in 2015 or so, I signed up for a "EMT Boot Camp" at Unitek College. It was $$$ because it was an accelerated 2-week EMT course: 14 days, and 12 hours a day including weekends. Generally speaking, the shorter the overall EMT class, the more expensive it is. Because they have to pack in the same amount of course materials as other longer EMT classes, but in a more condensed period of time.
The "EMT Boot Camp" was ran by mostly military veterans, and the "Trauma Lanes" scenarios did actually feel like a boot camp to say the least (not that I'd know since I've never served). So it was a good experience, and I'm glad to say I did it. But 2 weeks is not a lot of time to absorb all those EMT materials and is very very rushed. Even for someone like me with my background from volunteering with the Emergency Response Team (ERT) at my company.
After Unitek, I just went straight back to work, thinking that my current day job didn't hinge on me getting the NREMT, that the NREMT was just a personal goal, and I could take my time in taking it. In other words, it wasn't a priority.
The longer you wait after completing the EMT course, the less chances of you passing it the first time around. And I think it was a few months before I actually first took the NREMT. Not only did I not fully absorb the materials from that 2-week "boot camp", but I didn't really study for the NREMT either. So it came as no shocker that I failed it. A second attempt several months later yielded the same outcome, again with me not really having a good grasp of the materials nor prepping for the NREMT questions. It wasn't surprising, but still demoralizing nevertheless.Enter Foothill College
Fast forward to Jan 2020: my EMR certification was about to expire in a few months. So I signed up for the quarter-long EMR course at Foothill College, as my colleagues in the Red Cross wasn't hosting one at that time. Given my years of volunteer experience, I coasted thru Foothill's EMR for the most part. Most of the class were kids, and I was one of the older students as being in my mid 30s. But I still really enjoyed it. I knew full well that it was the prerequisite for Foothill's EMT program, and I was already considering signing up for the latter.
Then the pandemic hit.
Towards the tail-end of the class, it pretty much moved online, just like the rest of the world. For us newly EMR graduates, Foothill decided not to host another EMT course right away like they normally would because of the virus.
As 2020 rolled on, thoughts started creeping into my head: I'm not getting any younger, and I don't want to later look back on my life with regrets ("I wish I did this...."). Lord knows that I have some already, and some is enough. And one thing I've wanted to do for a while was get my EMT cert.
So when I found out that Foothill was resuming its 6-month EMT program in Jan 2021, I signed up. It was now or never.
In Dec 2020, I spent some time studying to get ahead -- namely with the human anatomy chapter. The human body is an amazing machine, and very complicated. I knew that that was one of my weak points. So I focused on that chapter during the holidays.
6 months at Foothill was going to be a while. But I was determined to get it right this time. It was going to be a far cry from Unitek's 2-week "EMT Boot Camp", and that was a good thing in a way because then I'd have more time to better absorb the materials. Which a lot of I already knew, but there was still a lot that I didn't
know. Just like the EMR class in 2020, I entered this EMT class with an open-mind and a dose of humility -- even though I knew more than most of the kids in the class, I didn't know everything. And I didn't want to have a cocky attitude. Any good/competent instructor would nail you to the wall for that.
Just like EMR, I was designated as my Squad's team leader in each quarter. I tried to be a good mentor and lead by example. Sometimes, it worked; other times, not so much. But I did my best.
Tuesdays were primarily Zoom sessions thanks to COVID. Thursdays were in-person lab sessions.
In the Zoom sessions, I made it a point to keep my camera on most of the time, and ask the instructor Qs. I confess, there was an ulterior motive for this, and it wasn't really me wanting to be a teacher's pet or anything. See, most of the rest of the kids didn't really keep their cameras on. So you only saw their names or some profile pic on-screen. If you kept your camera on
, that alone decreased your chances of getting randomly called on by the instructor b/c you're already visible to them. For other students, it conversely increased their
chances of getting called on. There many have even been a few instances where they stepped away from the Zoom classes.
Hey, if you don't want to get randomly called on, turn on the damn camera.
There were a few times where Instructor "A" called on me and a few other more seasoned students for our opinions about how the class did after group activities. I think that was a sign that she respected us for our maturity and experience, which was cool. The one thing I remember saying on Zoom to the rest of the class was that making mistakes in the EMT program was a good
thing -- that means you can learn from them so you can avoid making them out in the field on an actual patient. Instructor "A" thought that was "well said." I took that to the bank.
So yeah, the 6-month EMT program at Foothill wasn't incredibly hard or rocket science, especially with my familiarity with some of the materials.... but it still took a lot of work. And you had to stay on top of everything with all the quizzes, tests, assignments, lab skills, final exams, etc. Falling behind would invite a world of hurt.
In addition, I had my job (first world problem). It just happened to be that during Feb thru May 2021 were some of the most challenging, stressful months I've ever experienced at work. I remember on one particular Thursday, I had to get up at 6am for work, work till class which ended at 9:30pm…. my eyes were stinging even by the time class started. Maybe it’s because I’m older, and/or I’m not used to long days like those blah blah blah. But I didn’t want to lose focus.
A lab skill assignment... believe it or not
Thus, as much as I enjoyed the EMT program, having to work full time with night classes eventually got tiring especially towards the end.
But it was worth it.The NREMT... again
At one point during the EMT course, I mentioned to a fellow student, "It's not over until we pass the NREMT." He agreed.
After we "graduated" close to the end of Jun 2021, us fresh EMT grads were given tips and instructions on what to do next -- how to register with the County of Santa Clara, what further requirements are needed to work at an ambulance company, etc. But what I cared most about was how to study for the NREMT. I took it 5 years ago, and I wanted to succeed this time. Not to fail, and retake it over & over again.
The # of attempts allowed for the NREMT is like this:
- You're allowed a total of 4 tries. Each costs ~ $90.
- Each time you fail, you have to wait 15 days to schedule a retake of the test.
- If you fail the first 3 times, you have to take a refresher course.
- After said refresher, if you fail that 4th attempt, you need to retake the entire EMT program.
Instructor "D" also told us that if we don't take the time to prep for the NREMT within the 30 days after completing the class, there'd statistically be a 30% chance of passing it the first time which is pretty damn low already. And one's chances of passing decreases after that failed first attempt. I can relate all of this to personal experience.
Then, he explained to us that studying from class notes and reading from the textbook is a terrible way to study. The best way to prep was to study the types of questions that would be on the NREMT. The instructors recommended some NREMT study tools, a few of which saved my @$$.
Now, I know what you're thinking -- why can't the EMT class just prep you for the NREMT? And can't class just include taking the NREMT at the end and be done with it?
There are probably valid reasons why that ain't so. But I sure as hell wish it was. I guess it's because EMT local jurisdictions all over the States are just too different from one another.
As for what makes the NREMT so nerve-wracking? Well, some folks may not perceive it that way. But for the uninitiated, let me describe how it works (more or less)...
- The NREMT is a computer-adaptive test.
- Based on how well you do, it decides how easy or difficult the next Q will be. And it can go either way.
- The NREMT may cover all the areas one learns in EMT class (Cardiology, Medical, EMS Operations, etc). Or maybe it covers half of those. Or just a few of them. Who knows?
- Usually, a test-taker will get 60-80 Qs; 150 Qs on rare occasions.
- Regardless of the # of Qs you get, the computer will decide when to cut off your exam: it may think that you know your stuff well enough to pass, or that you don't and you're wasting its time.
- When the computer ends your exam, you don't know right away if you pass or fail (#@$&Y#$*&#^@$*&!!). For the results, you have to wait about 24 hours, or 2-3 business days even.
- If you pass, the NREMT website will just simply state that. If not, then it'll post how well you did in each category ("Above/Near/Below Passing")
After class ended, I gave myself a week break -- I still had a full time job to tend to, and my brain needed a respite from studying. But I didn't want to wait too long for the NREMT. So eventually, I scheduled the exam date just under the 30-day mark after our last official EMT class. Then I spent 3 weeks studying, 1.5 to 2 hours a day taking practice quizzes and questions that came in NREMT-style. No small thanks to my good virtual study-buddy, Darren, that's for sure.
Yours truly paid a little bit more money for EMTPrep.com and the EMT Pocket Prep app. Whenever I got a question wrong, or even if I got one right but it was just a lucky guess, I read the given explanation as to why. I did a lot of Google searches ('cuz you know, Google knows everything) and on occasion went to my EMT textbook to zone in on certain sections of the subject/term I was looking up. As a result, I actually became more familiar with some things that I simply glossed over in class.
Google history searches... medical terms galore!
Then came The Day.
Arriving at the testing site, it was like deja vu all over again. It was the exact same place where I took the NREMT (and twice failed) 5 years ago.
Welps... 3rd time's a charm!
This time around, I felt a little more confident but was still nervous. Several Qs were still tricky. And a few felt like shooting in the dark. For some others, I knew the answers straight off the bat. But yeah, overall, it was still no piece of cake. Sigh... confidence.
The silver lining (if you want to call it that) was that the computer ended my exam around 70 Qs or so. For my first 2 attempts all those years ago, I remember one or even both of those attempts having 100+ Qs. Which even back then didn't feel good. So at least this time, ~70 Qs felt more or less aligned with all the numerous EMTPrep.com practice quizzes I took.
I do feel that all those practice quizzes helped... not for every Q on the NREMT obviously, but if it weren't for those practice quizzes, I wouldn't have been able to answer those NREMT Qs on pregnancy-related emergencies, Cushing's Triad, or "Rules of 9's" for BSAs (Burned Surface Areas). Even though the Qs on those subjects weren't large in numbers for my NREMT exam, hey, I was still able to answer them correctly.
I'll take it.Feeling High
Since my exam date was on a Fri, I was dreading about not finding out about my results till the following Weds (2-3 business days later, as it was officially stated). But probably like every other EMT student in the past, I kept checking the NREMT website the following day. Natta, which wasn't surprising.
On Sun, the first thing I did after waking up was in fact checking the NREMT site again. It was like becoming a ritual.
It's funny how one simple sentence can bring so much sadness. Or, in this case, pride and joy.
I literally "w00t!"ed in my room with arms in the air. I still can't believe I passed!
Then I took a snapshot of the NREMT screen formally wishing me Congratulations, and sent it to my parents and some of my closest friends.
Granted, thousands of kids before me have passed the NREMT (it doesn't require a bachelor's).
Granted, this isn't a nursing, a master's, or a medical degree. So getting the NREMT may not seem that hard for most.
But it still means the world to me.
Even Huda, my former housemate who is now a 3rd yr resident, said to me after I completed the EMT class: "I've gotta hand it to ya, you've done something productive
during this pandemic." And this coming from someone who's gone thru med school! So just the passing of the class still counts a lot in her eyes.
I don't know where exactly this will take me down the road. But I feel proud of all the hard work I put into it. It's the accumulation of a 10-month effort: 6 months for EMT, 1 month of studying for NREMT and even the 3 months for EMR... even tho the EMR course was back in 2020 and is now no longer a prereq for Foothill's EMT program. But heck, I had to take it before COVID reared its ugly head, so I'm counting the EMR's 3 month period. In any case, I haven't hit the books this hard for this long a duration for..... well, a long time. Maybe even compared to my college years.
Again, working full time and doing all that concurrently -- I know I'm not the only one who has done it and others have done it for far longer.
Nevertheless, this is a longtime personal goal finally fulfilled.
I'm not feeling like an impostor anymore!