RCC students attain paramedic status

On January 24, a long-awaited pinning ceremony honored three groups of Rappahannock Community College students who have completed a highly challenging curriculum in paramedic studies. The gold and blue Paramedic lapel pin from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians recognizes not only the hard work and accomplishments of these students, but the support, patience, and sacrifices of their families.

In 2011, RCC entered a partnership with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) that would augment its existing Emergency Medical Services Intermediate curriculum with NOVA courses leading toward paramedic certification. NOVA’s Holly Frost, then assistant dean of allied health programs, structured the agreement with Suzanne Tolson and Terrence McGregor, then director and assistant director of RCC’s EMS program. The ceremony included a special gift honoring Frost for her service to the paramedic program; Tolson and McGregor presented her with an art print showing a waterside scene and a flock of seagulls (the RCC mascot).

Most of the 24 students who have completed the program since 2011 have gained employment in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck, where many emergency-services agencies previously staffed by volunteers have made the transition to all-paid or a combination of paid and volunteer staff. A few of them are working in Hampton, Williamsburg, or Newport News; one is on the Emergency Department staff at University of Virginia Medical Center, one is working for a nursing degree at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, and one has recently returned from a two-year stint as a paramedic in Afghanistan. Others continue to serve as community volunteers.

RCC’s president, Dr. Elizabeth Crowther, welcomed the Classes of 2011, 2012, and 2013 to the ceremony, and rendered special thanks to RCC’s dean of health sciences, Charles Smith, and EMS program director Ellen Vest for their excellent work in preparing these graduates for their responsibilities. Vest then introduced the keynote speaker: Michael Player, the executive director of the Peninsulas EMS Council.

“This program,” said Player, “answered the community question, ‘Where can we get and keep trained life-saving professionals?’ The partnerships represented here tonight — between the community and the colleges, and between the visionaries, the educators, and the students — show that everyone, pulling together, can create a vibrant and essential program to serve the area’s needs.” He continued, “By graduating you have proven that you have all the knowledge to perform the job. However, if you truly want to be successful, you need to have kindness, compassion, understanding, and courtesy for patients and their families. If you don’t love people, you will be a failure as a paramedic. If you have these qualities, it can be a wonderful and rewarding journey.”

Player yielded the podium to Dr. Gaylord Ray, who was medical director of RCC’s EMS program at the time the partnership with NOVA was set up. He introduced Ray as “the man who led the charge in developing the paramedic profession in this region,” and presented him with a gift honoring his contributions.

“A program like this,” responded Ray, “is all about people working together, about everyone pulling in one direction.” He bestowed awards on the valedictorians of each class: Tiffany Chatham and Anthony Kuklis (Class of 2011), Jeremy Scheid (2012), and Joseph Voboril (2013). McGregor then administered the Paramedic Oath.

At the conclusion of the evening, after closing remarks from Dr. Donna Alexander, RCC’s vice president of instruction and student development, there was a surprise announcement from one of the students. Nathan Verser (Class of 2013) told the gathering that ever since he was a child he had wanted to be a paramedic, but after he dropped out of school in eighth grade, the dream seemed very distant. “After years of trying,” he said, “I finally got a job with the fire department, but they told me I had to get my paramedic certification to stay on.” At RCC, “everyone worked with me to get me into the program and help me succeed in reaching my dream.” Verser is now on the dean’s list, and looks forward to earning an associate degree soon. “I had to stand up and publicly say ‘thank you’ to all of you,” he said.

Receiving pins on this occasion, as members of the Class of 2011, were Thomas Beasley, Vicky Beasley, Shaun Blazvick, Kevin Bowen, Tiffany Chatham, Vetta Cheremeteff, Travis Goodwyn, Dennis Hulbert, Anthony Kuklis, Kendig Mansfield, Natalie Marshall, Tamara McDaniel, Cheerie Mercer, and Karen Meyer. Class of 2012: Brad Berrier, David Dean, Jeremy Scheid, and Rachael Zabel. Class of 2013: Gregory Graham, James Kurtz, Joseph Morelos, Michael Pouchot, and Nathan Verser. One student, Joseph Voboril, completed the program with high honors, but could not be awarded a pin because he has not yet undergone National Registry testing to obtain his certification.

Chatham is a resident of Fluvanna County; Blazvick, Cheremeteff, Graham, Kurtz, Meyer, Verser, and Zabel, of Gloucester County; Mansfield and Morelos, of Hampton; Scheid, of Henrico County; Hulbert, of King William County; Berrier, of Mathews County; Dean and Marshall, of Middlesex County; Pouchot and Voboril, of Newport News; Bowen, of Northumberland County; Goodwyn, of the city of Richmond; Thomas Beasley and McDaniel, of Richmond County; Mercer, of Virginia Beach; Vicky Beasley, of Westmoreland County; and Kuklis, of Williamsburg.