By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
It's only fitting that Seneca College offers its aeromedical certificate program exclusively through distance learning considering the distances its graduates have to travel in the course of a day's work.
The aeromedical program at Seneca College is a bridge between medicine and aviation, says George Guenther, one of the program's online tutors. It is the only course of its kind offered by a public college in Ontario.
They might have to accompany a primary or advanced care patient from Thunder Bay to London, then make further trips with patients to Ottawa, Sudbury and Dryden or even Winnipeg. They might have to take a native who needs medical attention from a fly-in, fly-out reserve to Hamilton or some other city in the south.
"It's a very, very exciting career choice," says Judith Minsky, program co-ordinator at Seneca. "It offers endless possibilities, but it is also quite a responsibility."
The program has been running for more than 15 years and is the only course of its kind offered by a public college in Ontario. Minsky says the number of students enrolled in the program at any one time varies since it's distance learning and students can take courses to suit their schedules. All five required courses could be completed in as little as a year, Minsky says, although that's not necessary.
What is necessary to register is medical training of one kind or another. Most students have already trained as paramedics and want certification to apply their skills in the air. Others who qualify for registration include doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists registered in Ontario. Everyone has to have a CPR Level C certificate.
The three online courses are communications and administration, aeromedical physiology and aeropathophysiology, Minisky says. Essentially, the last two courses mean studying how air travel affects the body and a patient's medical condition.
The two other subjects are practical and conducted in the field. They are aeromedical flight safety and operations preparation, and survival orientation. The latter is held in mid-winter at various locations around northern Ontario and teaches students what to do in the event of a forced landing -- or worse.
Judith Minsky "Endless possibilites"
Tuition is charged by the course, so flight safety, for example, costs $644, Minsky says.
George Guenther is an online tutor for the Seneca program and works for Thunder Airlines as a primary care air paramedic based in Dryden.
He says the theoretical part of the program isn't particularly difficult because students already have the necessary background. What they do have to learn, however, is how to apply their medical knowledge to altitude.
"The program is a bridge between medicine and aviation," Guenther says.
He suggests that take charge personalities who get along with others are the sorts of people who thrive as air paramedics.
Christa Calabrese, Thunder Bay-based medical department administrator for Thunder Airlines, says the company regularly hires Seneca graduates to staff its bases in Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Timmins and Sudbury
Christa Calabrese, Thunder Bay-based medical department administrator for Thunder Airlines, says the company regularly hires Seneca graduates to staff its bases in Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Timmins and Sudbury.
Aeromedical certification requires 250 hours of study.
Three of the program's subjects are studied online and two are conducted in the field.
The survival orientation practicum lasts three days in mid-winter in northern Ontario.
Students must have certain medical training and CPR Level C.
Seneca's tuition fees are charged per subject.
Thunder Airlines works for the Ministry of Health and has 28 full -time air paramedics and three or four part timers, Calabrese says. Shift work is the norm. Typically, Thunder Airlines staff work four days on, four days off. At work, the paramedics are usually on call 24 hours a day.
The job outlook for the certified air paramedic looks fair to good.
"Prospects have been excellent in the last five years," Guenther says. "(Vacancies are) starting to fill up now. It runs in cycles."
Calabrese agrees the job market is tightening, but for the newly certified paramedic who does land a job, the pay, if not lavish, is hardly bargain basement.
Thunder Airlines pays a first- year primary care employee a base salary of $46,000 plus air time for a total of not less than $53,000. Advanced care staff earn even more. The base is $48,000 and the minimum not less than $57,000, Calabrese says.
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