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.”

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