Skip to main content

USD and Sanford Start Paramedic Training Program to Fill Need in Rural Areas

Image June Larson June Larson, an associate dean and professor in the USD School of Health Sciences.

By Emily VanGerpen

A new paramedic training program should help fill the need for certified emergency responders in South Dakota, which has roughly 3,000 such personnel serving the state’s 850,000 residents.

The University of South Dakota and Sanford Health in Sioux Falls are offering the instruction that will allow a Health Sciences major to be certified as a paramedic while earning a bachelor’s degree. Organizers said the effort should especially help rural areas of the region that often suffer from a shortage of health care workers.

“If you’re getting a four-year degree anyway, you can pursue this and come away from it with paramedic certification,” said Jon Bohlen, EMS outreach coordinator at Sanford Health and course director of the collaborative paramedic program.

The state of South Dakota mandates that at least two rescuers be present when responding to an emergency, a requirement that nearly all rural areas are struggling to meet, according to the South Dakota Department of Safety’s annual report. It also found that 80 percent of certified personnel are community volunteers trained with the basics of either operating an ambulance or administering care to patients.

Without qualified paramedics, rescue teams must pull nurses from hospital shifts to provide care during an emergency. The nurses, though capable of saving lives, are restricted in what care they can provide outside the hospital.

Travis Spier, R.N., director of simulation and the center for pre-hospital care at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, often serves in a dual nurse-paramedic role.

“Of the advanced life support inter-facility transfers we receive on a daily basis, I would roughly say that about 70 percent have nurses instead of paramedics,” Spier said.

Open for enrollment this fall, class sessions and clinical lab simulations will take place in Sioux Falls on Tuesdays, Thursdays and select Saturdays. Bohlen and his colleagues will begin with a small cohort of EMT-certified students who are enrolled in the Health Sciences Major at the University of South Dakota. The paramedic education is an area of specialization within the major.

“We are excited here because it is an area that students have expressed interest in pursuing,” said June Larson, who is an associate dean and professor in the USD School of Health Sciences. “Being able to offer this in collaboration with Sanford is a great opportunity for students.”


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

This material is available in an alternate format upon request. Please contact University Relations at 605-677-5759. If you are a person with a disability and need a special accommodation to fully participate in any university activity or event, please contact Disability Services at 605-677-6389 as soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours before the event, so that appropriate arrangements may be made.


Hanna DeLange
USD News