Members of an EMS class at UNM-LA practice their life-saving skills in the EMS training lab that will soon be renovated. Photo by Joseph Candelaria
A $15 million grant is helping UNM-LA and ten other two-year colleges educate a workforce to fulfill the growing demand for healthcare professionals in New Mexico.
The grant, awarded in October 2014, is funding equipment, faculty, and staff to support the students being served in the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) program that qualifies for funding under the grant.
Funded by the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT), the grant is going by the acronym SUN PATH. The mission of the New Mexico Skill Up Network (SUN) is to expand and improve the ability of community colleges in New Mexico to deliver education and career training programs that can be completed in two years or less.
SUN aims to prepare program participants to succeed in acquiring the skills, degrees, and credentials needed for high-wage, high-skill employment while also meeting the need of employers in New Mexico. Pathway Acceleration in Technology and Healthcare (PATH) is about the focus on preparing students for a career in health care by teaching the necessary skills to do the job while strengthening reading, writing, and math abilities.
Estimated job growth between 2010 and 2020 in New Mexico, according to TAACCCT, will be significant in health care industries, specifically for medical assistants, nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, medical records and health information technicians, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants. The occupations with the fastest projected job growth during that same period are home health aides, personal and home care aides, and medical secretaries.
At UNM-LA, EMS is an existing credit program that’s being enhanced by the grant with equipment acquisition and faculty services. With completion of the EMS two-year degree, which trains students for careers in emergency medicine, fire service, and public safety, students are able to transfer to four-year degree programs. EMS certification will be offered three times over the three academic years of the grant, and serves an estimated 20-25 students per year.
“Equipment is a major focus for UNM-LA under the grant,” said Cedric Page, Ph.D., Geography Faculty and SUN PATH Coordinator. “We have ordered equipment that we expect to have by the end of the year. Specifically, we are getting simulation models of adults and children that students can practice intubations and clearing breathing airways with, as well as an ambulance simulator so students can practice putting patients on the ambulance and monitoring vitals while en route to hospital.” In the past, the program has borrowed equipment from UNM main campus and the Los Alamos Fire Department.
With money from general state funds, the EMS training lab is being renovated to accommodate the new equipment. Page said Joseph Candelaria, Department Chair of Fire Science/EMS, and other faculty in the EMS program worked with architects to efficiently design the area. “The new space and equipment are going to really make us a state of the art facility for EMS training and we expect to draw students from near and far,” Page added.
The SUN PATH grant supports recruitment and retention of students with staff to run the programs, including a Coordinator, a Job Development Career Coach, and an Online Coordinator. At UNM-LA, EMS faculty have also been hired under the SUN PATH grant. “We have a principal investigator responsible for making sure we stay on track with targets on enrollment and graduations, as well as making sure the grant is administered properly,” said Page. “As the Campus Coordinator, I coordinate the faculty we hired under the grant and make sure we’re all on same page with goals and time tables.”
Working to provide a core curriculum that is shared between the 11 two-year educational institutions, SUN PATH requires that online coursework be accessible to help students complete degrees efficiently and conveniently. “If UNM-LA offers a course that students at, for example, Central New Mexico Community College or Santa Fe Community College need to graduate on time but those institutions are not offering it that semester, those students can take it through UNM-LA and get credit from their home campus,” said Page. “That’s the premise of the online aspect of the grant—it helps students around the state in different programs get the necessary coursework to graduate.”
There’s also a focus on serving students without a high school degree but who want to enroll in credit courses at community colleges through the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program that integrates Adult Basic Education (ABE) with career and technical education. “Students in the ABE program can take an introductory course in EMS along with coursework to get their high school equivalency certificate,” Page added. SUN PATH also strives to grant credit to students for classes completed at different institutions through its Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) program.
The role of the Job Development Career Coach is to prepare students for the workplace by teaching networking skills and resume writing. “We offer national workplace skills testing that gives students feedback on how prepared they are for the workplace so when they complete their certificate or degree program, they’ll be competitive and improve their chances of being hired,” Page explained. “This connection between education and getting into the workforce is unique to this program.”
The grant will follow the success of the schools and the students in the SUN PATH program each year, with one of the key metrics measuring the placement of students in jobs related to their training. “We started tracking the students in the spring, so looking back at the EMT Basics program in the summer and fall, we had around 55 students in EMT courses who were impacted by grant funds.”
Beyond the grant’s four-year duration, the project aspires to be a catalyst for systemic change through demonstrated support and access for students seeking higher education in healthcare-related training while increasing the connection between the public workforce and higher education systems. “The grant is primarily designed to achieve outcomes in its first three years, with equipment, faculty and staff, and online courses,” Page said. “The expectation is that the institutions will sustain these programs beyond the end of the four years of the grant.”