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It’s not just doctors and nurses we need

Humber College’s two-year paramedic program prepares students for frontline emergency work.

Humber College

It's been well documented that Canada faces a shortage of doctors and nurses. But other health occupations, such as paramedics, occupational therapists and radiation technologists, are also in need of educated professionals, according to the Association of Canadian Community Colleges.

"Given the involvement of these specialists in all stages of health-care delivery – from diagnosis to treatment and recovery – shortages will impede access to diagnostic and therapeutic health-care services, increasing wait times for medical procedures," said James Knight, the president of ACCC, in a statement earlier this year. Graduates from these courses are quickly snatched up for jobs within six months of graduation.

Humber College Paramedic program

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Humber's two-year paramedic program has been readying its students to work on the front line of medical emergencies with Ontario's ambulance services since 1976, program co-ordinator Lynne Urszenyi said.

Roughly 60 per cent of graduates found jobs working for ambulance services as paramedics, while another 34 per cent find work in related fields.

Students leave the program with roughly 550 hours of practical experience in both ambulance and acute-care hospital settings. While most paramedic programs have work placements only in the final year of schooling, Humber's paramedic program is unique in placing students in an ambulance 150 hours in the last month of the first year.

"If a student figures out that they don't like the program or if it's too stressful for them, they can leave before wasting another year in the program," said Katherine Adamko, a student in her final year. "The program is tough. It places a lot of demand on you, which I think will help to set us up to be hired."

The program partners with Toronto and Peel region for ambulance service training as well as the Humber River Regional Hospital and the Brampton Civic Hospital.

"We want to broaden the students' view of health care, so they get to see what happens to a patient after they drop them off in an ambulance," Ms. Urszenyi said.

The program admits 70 students each year but is competitive. To ensure admission is fair, all applicants, irrespective of whether they're coming from high school or medical school, must write Humber's tests in chemistry, biology, math and English language, Ms. Urszenyi said.

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NAIT Respiratory therapist program

Respiratory therapists diagnose and treat people who are suffering from heart and lung problems, and specialize in airway management. At NAIT's three-year program, students learn in simulations and practicums how to work as respiratory therapists.

Ben Rauschning, a registered respiratory therapist and the program's central clinical liaison, says each student will do rotations in several fields, such as hospitals, emergency rooms and rehab clinics.

"It's always a one-on-one pairing with a registered therapist, because they need to balance patient care with teaching needs and it's most effective that way," he said.

Most students find placements near the NAIT campus within the Edmonton area but might also accept placements in nearby municipalities, such as Red Deer.

He says the program's selling point is the high number of work placement hours, including six weeks in neonatal care, three weeks in a pediatrics intensive care unit and one week in a pediatric ward.

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"There's always a tug of war with the industry that wants more graduates because of labour shortages and the school making sure we're training the candidates in the best way possible," Mr. Rauschning said, adding there will be an "uniquely high demand for the next few years" with a new hospital opening in Calgary and other new projects.

Eighty-two per cent of its students are employed within one year of graduating.

Dennis Smith, 30, had a part-time job as a respiratory therapist at an Edmonton community hospital before he even graduated.

"It was one of the places where I did my clinical experience and they hired me in March when I was student on the condition that I would finish the program," he said.

BCIT Radiation therapy program

One of the common treatments for cancer is radiation therapy. British Columbia Institute of Technology's radiation therapy program prepares students to work as the health-care professional responsible for delivering a therapeutic dose of ionizing radiation for treating a malignant tumour. The 33-month program runs year-round and through the summer period when many students are off, but the intensive program is designed to get students into the work force as quickly as possible, said Bill Dow, BCIT's dean of the School of Health Sciences.

"We find that most of our students come to a place like BCIT because they are career-focused and want to get into the job pronto," Mr. Dow said.

The Burnaby-based program favours students from British Columbia over other candidates because it was designed to fulfill the province's need for radiation therapists. The program is competitive, with three applicants for every seat.

"Four years ago, there was lots of concern within the discipline and the province that we were going to face a shortage of radiation therapists," Mr. Dow said. As a result, BCIT increased the number of program seats from 64 to 80 and some other seats were opened up in the province.

"But at the same time as we increased the spots, the global economy meltdown happened and some of the vacancy rates dropped off as people postponed retirement," he said. "The needs are still high for radiation therapists, but we don't want to overshoot on the number of graduates the province actually needs and also want to make sure all our graduates find jobs quickly."

Students have a 90-per-cent employment rate within six months of graduation, he said.

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