Tuesday, April 6th 2021

EMS program sets the standard

Kilgore College’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program sets the standard for top-quality education provided to students with an interest in the medical field. 40-year paramedic and Emergency Medical Technology instructor, Mike Smith, goes beyond the basics to ensure his students graduate with the knowledge and critical thinking skills the field demands. 

The EMS program is a standardized program developed nationally as far as the requirements go for each individual level of the EMS practice. 

“At KC we teach all four levels. The first one is called First Responder. Volunteer firefighters and police officers seek that type of training,” he said. The next level is EMT [Emergency Medical Technician], which includes more comprehensive training, as well as clinicals. “The next level up is called Advanced EMT, which is the EMT training plus working cardiac arrest, defibrillating, etc. And then the top level is Paramedic,” Smith said.

Students interested in the program can choose between a certificate and a two-year degree program. According to Smith, both the certificate and the two-year degree program will end with the students’ paramedic certification. The two-year degree program is 60 hours to get an Associate of Applied Science (including 18 hours of general education courses), whereas the certificate is 42 hours. 

“The certificate is going to get you the certification as well. But the degree will help with advancement. If you don’t want to work in the field your entire career and you want to move up the chain of command, the degree would be a step that would help you do that,” he said.

Sophomore Justin Pomykal said he chose KC to get his degree in EMS because he had heard good things about the program.

“I’d known some people who went through it and they said it was good, and it was also a lot more affordable for the working-class family,” he said. “And we’ve also got a great professor who’s always willing to do whatever he has to, to help us succeed.”

Sophomore Ariel Gatlin agreed with Pomykal about the program’s affordability being a factor in her decision to attend KC.

“I can get what I need here and still be able to function outside and have enough of a life still,” Gatlin said. “Plus, the staff here simply cares. They will always make sure that if you don’t get something, you do one way or another. Also, there’s multiple resources. And instructors actually work with you, schedule-wise and everything else.”

Smith elaborated on the evolution of the field and the diversity of jobs it offers today.

“When I first got in this business - a long time ago - you were pretty much limited to only working on ambulances. But today you see paramedics working in emergency departments, in critical care units; but you will also see them in industrial complexes providing safety and first aid there,” Smith said. “You’re also going to see them—just like I worked—on a drilling or production platform offshore since they’re required to have medical personnel on board in case something happens. There’s so many things that they can do today over what it used to be.”

Smith, who’s been teaching at KC for over 20 years, stressed the importance of training for EMS and shaping his students’ skills to excel in the field.

“I love this stuff and it’s a very necessary thing that we do. We’re going to go out and answer the call when somebody says ‘please, help me,’” he said. “Our training is important, so at the end of it we can actually provide that help at the highest level possible.”

According to Pomykal and Gatlin, a typical day as an EMS student starts in the classroom with Smith giving a lecture. Then, the students get to practice the skills they learned for the day until they’ve mastered them. Lastly, they’ll move into clinical, where they go out in the field, observe and learn. 

Pomykal, whose goal is to work at the Longview Fire Department as a firefighter medic, said he found his true calling in EMS.

“My family’s always had medical problems, but I originally wanted to go military. However, due to more medical problems, I wasn’t able to. So I got into the fire service which was kind of the next best thing, and then I figured out that I really loved it, which then led to EMT and Paramedic,” he said.

Similarly, Gatlin, who wants to be a paramedic for CHRISTUS, said she found her motivation in her family. 

“My parents are older and they have a lot of health problems and it’s always been natural to me not to panic. So it just seems to me like when something happens, I’m going to stay calm,” she said. 

Smith highlighted KC’s different approach in preparing EMS students for the different tasks that go hand-in-hand with the medical field. 

“I want to have a thinking student, a thinking graduate so that when they go out there, their critical thinking skills are going to be honed to the highest level that I can get them,” Smith said. “I think it’s our dedication to that, that takes us to another level.”

For more information about the EMS program, contact department chair Eddie Bernaldez at (903) 236-2012 or

ARTICLE BY: Adriana Cisneros-Emerson/KC Marketing
PHOTO BY: Catie Denfeld/KC Marketing