Advocate Sherman Hospital celebrates 50 years of training paramedics

For nearly as long as there have been paramedics, an Elgin hospital has been training them.

Advocate Sherman Hospital recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its paramedic training program, with 20 graduates completing the 11-month course.

“If we didn’t have paramedics in the field, doing the interventions they do, patients would not survive at the rate that they do,” said Amy Crane, emergency medical services coordinator at Advocate Sherman.

Paramedics as we know them now didn’t exist in the U.S. before the 1970s. A report in 1966 from the National Academy of Sciences titled “Accidental Death and Disability” drew attention to the lack of training and regulation of ambulance providers and highlighted the high number of motor vehicle-related deaths.

By 1970, the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians had been created and in 1974, the initial guidelines for a national EMT-Paramedic curriculum was developed.

Sherman Hospital’s paramedic program graduated its first class in 1974. Courtesy of Advocate Sherman Hospital

Sherman Hospital graduated its first class of paramedics in 1974. Crane said the program has trained nearly 1,200 paramedics since that first class, when the program was just five months long.

“Now it’s 11 months of your life,” she said. “It’s like having a full-time job on top of your job. It’s very intense.”

Most firefighters in Illinois are certified EMTs (emergency medical technicians). Becoming a paramedic is the next step.

Crane said the difference is that while EMTs can do many of the basic skills of a paramedic, it’s more task oriented and working off orders. Paramedics need to use critical thinking based on their more advanced training to interpret what needs to be done in a situation quickly.

  Mike Major of Elk Grove Village is among 20 recent graduates of Advocate Sherman Hospital’s paramedic program. It’s the 50th anniversary class of the program at the Elgin hospital. Major works for the Lake Forest Fire Department. Rick West/

Mike Major, 23, of Elk Grove Village said the training program was the “craziest, most amazing year.”

“Everything is so quick, we go over a lot of things quickly and you have to learn how to communicate quickly,” he said. “It really teaches you how to prioritize what’s important.”

Major, who works for the Lake Forest Fire Department, said he decided his career path when he was 14, after seeing paramedics in action helping his mom after she had complications at home post-surgery from cancer treatment.

“I remember being so scared, so nervous,” he said. “They were just professionals. They helped my mom, they were able calm me down and make a situation that was so scary seem totally under control.

“I remember thinking, wow, these guys are heroes.”

Advocate Sherman’s training program involves about 500 classroom hours and 500 clinical hours, including ride-along time with 11 local fire departments and fire protection districts.

Clinical training includes hands-on experience in the hospital’s emergency room, operating room, obstetrics unit, labor and delivery unit, catheterization lab, ICU and respiratory therapy department, as well as training with social workers.

For Major and the other graduates, the next step is passing the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam for paramedics. Then, he’ll be able to realize a dream he’s had since that encounter nearly 10 years ago.

“Eighty-five percent of what we do in the fire service is EMS,” Major said. “Being a paramedic, you get a chance to be a bright spot in someone’s bad day. To have a patient say that you helped them means everything.”

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