AKWESASNE MOHAWK AMBULANCE EMT ISSAC MCDONALD RECEIVES PARAMEDIC CERTIFICATION
Recently, through hard work and determination, Issac McDonald of the Akwesasne Mohawk Ambulance received his paramedic certification. Below, Issac discusses his background, and what it means that he is now a paramedic.
The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is proud of your accomplishments and all that you do for Akwesasne. Congratulations Issac!
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING AS AN EMT AND FOR THE AMA?
So my journey to Akwesasne Mohawk Ambulances started back in the summer 2006 while I was a part time dispatcher for Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service. The A/manager at the time Lois Terrance walked over to the dispatch office and asked me if I had any more of that free time and asked if I could fill in shift or two.
While I was already working with AMA EMT’s as a dispatcher, now I got to be in the field. After the first call I went on, I was impressed and hooked. I signed up for the first daytime EMT class held at the Alice Hyde Medical Center. This was a challenge working shift work and going to EMT class but I made it through. I obtained my EMT-B in April of 2007. Once I got “my card” I was thrown into the mix. While I did have some experience in EMS as a driver, now I was doing patient care.
During the first year of my career I encountered some calls where we had to call for advanced life support or “ALS” for short. These guys and girls would hop in the back of the ambulance and start IV’s, draw up some medications, hook the patient up to a cardiac monitor, and do all sorts of cool and amazing things with medicine. That stoked my interest to continue my work in the field.
After networking with the ALS providers, I was pointed west, and joined the Massena Volunteer Emergency Unit (MVEU). Back in 2008 when I joined MVEU, our local AMA was only a Basic Life Support (BLS) service. While the BLS skills are life saving, I felt that there was a whole opportunity to bring this advanced life support to Akwesasne.
As a member of MVEU, I signed up for the Advanced Emergency Medical Technician- Critical Care through SUNY Canton. It took 9 months of 2 nights a week and a Saturday here and there and practically living at MVEU to fulfill my ride time requirements. If going to class was hard, doing ride time was even a bigger challenge, but it was a good challenge as I had the best of the best Preceptors: Jimmy Jock, Wayne Love, both AEMT-CC’s and Bill Griffith NYS Paramedic to name a few. They taught me a lot, and expanded my knowledge, and with every call I was learning from them and also gaining valuable experience. I couldn’t do that here in Akwesasne, because our ambulance service at the time did not hold the “Advanced” certification and we didn’t have any ALS providers. From the start of my ALS education, I was told by AMA management (at the time) that taking this course was going to be a waste of my time, and that we (at AMA) will never be an ALS service. While it was very discouraging, I went on to learn for myself, and thought maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance advancing our little ambulance service.
I obtained my AEMT-Critical Care certification in June of 2010. I was a certified ALS provider, but because AMA did not hold any advanced certifications at the time, I could not use my skills, but I could use my knowledge. Therefore, to keep up with my skills I remained a volunteer at MVEU, answering ALS calls for the Town and Village of Massena, and on occasion when needed, came to Akwesasne to render assistance.
The need to advance our ambulance service was evident as we had increased our advanced providers to 3 AEMT-Critical Care and 1 Paramedic. In January 2016, we were able increase Akwesasne Mohawk Ambulance level of care to the highest pre-hospital level of care to Paramedic level. While there was a ton of paperwork, contracts and new policies that needed to be established, it finally felt that all those years of keeping up with the skills is now paying off, and Advanced Life Support is now in Akwesasne. Fast forward to today, we have increased our staffing numbers: we now have 2 paramedics, 2 AEMT Critical Care providers, 4 AEMT, and 15 EMT-B’s. Currently, out of the 15 EMT-B’s 3 of them are in class for AEMT level, I cant tell them enough at how proud I am of each and every one of them who are here providing services to our community.
My position today is acting supervisor, and newly certified NYS paramedic. It felt good to change my email signatures, and credentials; it was a long 18 months.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO RECEIVE YOUR PARAMEDIC CERTIFICATE?
How long did it take you to get your paramedic certificate?
I took the University of Vermont Health Network Elizabethtown Community Hospital Paramedic Program, which is a 2 year paramedic program condensed to 11 months. We did remote classes at North Country Community classes in Malone, but on occasion we had to travel to the main classroom in Lewis, NY which is about an hour and forty minutes away. The plan was to start the program in Sept 2018 which we did and finish in August 2019. While I successfully completed the program, now I had to finish my clinical and ride time. With the low number of certified paramedics in our area and the number of students, it was a challenge to meet our requirements. I worked in the ER shadowing nurses and physicians at the Alice Hyde Medical Center, and worked with my program medical director Dr. Tiffany Bombard at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, NY. Did some time at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake NY working in the OR shadowing anesthesiologists and CRNA’s. Once my clinical experiences were complete, I was traveling to Gouverneur, Ogdensburg, Saranac Lake in New York State to work with paramedics, and so that I could be trained into a solid field paramedic. This was while working full time at AMA as an acting supervisor, raising a family, and holding 3rd Assistant Chief of Hogansburg Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Deparment, (and lets not forget about the pandemic).
WHAT DOES IT MEAN NOW THAT YOU ARE A PARAMEDIC?
As a paramedic, my knowledge has greatly increased, and as EMS evolves and changes we were trained to think, plan, and provide care to our patients, the skill set from AEMT-Critcal Care, to Paramedic are almost identical. It is the education and training behind a paramedic. While I’m not a doctor, I better understand how a doctor thinks, establishes their differential diagnosis, establishes their working diagnosis, and provides high-quality care. I learned a great deal of knowledge working alongside Emergency Room (ER) physicians and learning about emergency medicine.
ARE YOU ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO GET THEIR CERTIFICATE?
Absolutely! I can see the interest in emergency medicine within our EMT’s in Akwesasne; they are hungry for knowledge, and education. You are responsible for your own destiny. If you want it, and are willing to learn and work for it, I am willing to help you.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS IN THE FIELD?
Honestly, in the future I’d like to get into Critical Care Medicine, and maybe try out the inter-facility transports at University of Vermont Health Care Network. At some point, I may look at becoming a Registered Nurse (RN).
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT THE COMMUNITY OF AKWESASNE TO KNOW?
It wasn’t easy getting here, and it didn’t happen over night; it took 10 years. 10 years of dedicating my time, and plenty of sacrifices to keep up with today’s every changing medicine, and pre-hospital care. My medical director told us that about 25% of the information we were taught will change based on science and best practices, so the learning will never stop.
I did not do this alone, I had a huge support system, while it was extremely difficult, and sometimes hard to understand, I want to say thank you to my friends, family and work family that stayed by my side. My schedule was so tight and busy in July of 2019 that I did not see my kids for 6 days straight. Between working nights and traveling to clinical shifts, I felt like quitting. Social media kept me in contact with my family, but nothing can replace a soft gentle hug from my kids. I would spend as much time as I could with them before putting on either my work uniform or school uniform. Now that its over, it feels good. It is actually taking me time to adjust. I still feel like I need to go somewhere, but the only place I need to get to now after work is to my boat and the St. Lawrence River, with my family.