Twenty promising Bahamians have embarked on a four-month course to become trained and certified emergency medical technicians and potentially land a guaranteed full-time job at Doctors Hospital.
The group of 15 women and five men were chosen following a rigorous selection process from a field of 782 applicants.
"The response to this unique opportunity being offered by Doctors Hospital exceeded our wildest expectations," said Vice President of Human Resources Paul Haven. "It told us that people are out there looking for opportunities that are not always readily available. Some of the comments we saw over and over as we went through the applications was 'I've been looking for an opportunity like this, but I haven't found it,' or 'I always wanted to do this, but couldn't afford the training'."
Trained and qualified EMTs are scarce in the Bahamas, so Doctors Hospital decided there was value in designing a programme that would create a qualified pool. In addition to covering all of the costs of training and certification, Doctors Hospital is providing the students with all of their materials, subsidised meals and a monthly stipend.
According to Mr Haven, an EMT programme would normally cost a student between $8,000 and $10,000 and in the United States it would run between $10,000 and $15,000 plus travel and living expenses. The Doctors Hospital EMT programme is also going to ensure that participants receive other certifications, including basic life support, paediatric advanced life, acute cardiac life support and ECG training.
At the end of the intense four-month programme, the students will sit the internationally accredited National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians Examination. The successful students will have all the knowledge and training needed to assess a medical emergency, assess a patient, make a diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan in order to get that patient safely to the hospital.
Doctors Hospital initially pledged to provide 15 spots in the course with guaranteed employment for the top 10. However, the applicant pool was so impressive and the need so great, the decision was made to increase the number of placements in the course to 20. Management has not yet decided whether the number of guaranteed jobs at the hospital will also be increased.
"We have a need based on our growing business and also we recognise that there are more opportunities within Doctors Hospital for people to take on other responsibilities and do some other things as well," he said, explaining that the EMTs at Doctors Hospital also work with the hyperbaric oxygen therapy programme.
Although Doctors Hospital specified that the academic requirement was simply a high school diploma and expected that the applicants would be primarily recent graduates, the nearly 800-strong pool included applicants with Bachelor's degrees in the sciences, some with education and experience in other healthcare-related fields and they ranged from age 17 and just starting out to people in their early 50s looking to finally make good on a life-long dream.
The group that was finally selected following a rigorous process ranges in age from 18 to early 30s and is a good mix of people who have work experience and those who are excited to be offered their first job. A number of the selected participants also hold Bachelor's degrees in chemistry or biology.
"I can feel and see the excitement of starting something new," said Assistant Vice President of Patient Care Bridgette Sherman following the two-day orientation. "I can see and feel the excitement that they were chosen because I keep hearing them say 'over 700 people applied and you chose me.' I really believe that will help them do their best in this class. Some have thanked me for the opportunity."
The programme is NAECOB and Health Professions Council accredited and is being taught by a number of the medical practitioners the newly minted EMTs will eventually work alongside once they are in the field. Instructors include Doctors Hospital President Dr Charles Diggiss, Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr Sheena Antonio-Collie, emergency room physicians Dr James Iferenta, Dr Alphaeus Allick and Dr Gregory Thomas, and paramedic and Doctors Hospital ETS Clinical Supervisor Lindsey Turnquest.
They will also work with Doctors Hospital's exercise physiologists and health coach to ensure that they are physically prepared for the demands of the course and their new career.
In addition to the 20 students in the EMT course, Doctors Hospital reached out to other applicants to offer other employment opportunities. According to Mr Haven, four people have already been offered other jobs even though they weren't offered a spot in the EMT programme and there were a handful of nurses who applied who the hospital has already engaged to join the hospital's team.
"They were all interested," he said, "for them, the EMT programme was one way, but their main emphasis was that they wanted to get into the healthcare industry. They love the fact that they can give back and care for others and that was their main objective in applying and those are the people we want on our team."
Doctors Hospital management plans to offer the EMT programme annually and intends to move towards online learning so that adults are able to take advantage of the opportunity without giving up their current employment.