EMS World Profiles MedStar's EMS CItizens Academy

MedStar Mobile Healthcare Citizen EMS Academy Educates Public About EMS



MedStar Mobile Healthcare based in Fort Worth, TX, presents its fourth annual Citizen EMS Academy this spring.

MedStar’s chief strategic integration officer, Matt Zavadsky, says MedStar’s and other similar programs throughout the U.S. can help citizens understand all aspects of EMS, as well as serve as a recruiting tool.

“The goal is to educate the public about all of the components it takes to put an ambulance in front of an address,” Zavadsky says. “We have put about 100 people through the academy so far and it has been exceptionally well received.”

The MedStar Citizen EMS Academy is an interactive forum for residents of the MedStar service area (Fort Worth and 14 surrounding counties) to learn about the functions and operation of MedStar and the practice of EMS.

The academy educates residents about what it takes to provide emergency medical service to the more than 930,000 residents in MedStar's service area.

The Citizen EMS Academy is a six-week course that meets one evening each week.

Participants learn how 9-1-1 medical calls are triaged and dispatched; watch and participate in demonstrations of equipment and procedures that EMS crews use in the field; and are trained in the latest "hands-only" chest compression CPR technique.

“They become trained in first aid and hands-only CPR,” Zavadsky says. “They learn all the tools, from the stretcher to intubation to using the oxygen. It’s all hands-on using the manikins. They learn all about fleet management and maintenance, logistics and supplies. It’s all those things that people don’t really know about that goes into the EMS service.”

The academy includes a ride-along with an ambulance crew. Prior to the ride-along, students go through HIPAA training and are required to sign an acknowledgement that they will not discuss patients they observe.

“The citizens wear a shirt with our logo and get a Citizen's Academy ID,” Zavadsky says. “From the patients’ and their families’ perspectives, the person belongs there. They don’t participate in any patient care. They are strictly observers who are there to learn.”

Participants also are required to observe a 12-hour shift in the 9-1-1 communications center. Zavadsky says MedStar’s scheduling department sets up the observation shifts at the participants’ convenience.

“Friday nights are popular, and some come back to observe or ride-along again,” Zavadsky says. “They get their own headsets that are plugged into the system so they can hear the calls firsthand. They observe how the dispatcher takes 9-1-1 calls and assesses patients in a non-visual environment.”

Zavadsky says most academy participants had no idea what is involved in providing emergency medical care.

“The feedback generally is, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea all of this went into EMS,’” Zavadsky says. “We routinely hear people say, ‘I went to parts of this community on the ambulance that I never would have gone to on my own.’ They also go to the ER with the crew. They know what it’s like to sit at a post location for two hours waiting for a call, or running 10 calls in 12 hours on a Friday night. Or they are sitting in the communications center when there is a wreck on the interstate and 15–20 cell phone calls are coming in. They see how the dispatchers deal with that. These are things that the general public never knows.”

The Citizen EMS Academy attracts a wide range of ages, from 18 to a retired couple in their 70s who wanted to learn more about the ambulance service.

“It would be great if every EMS system in the country could provide this type or education to every citizen,” Zavadsky says. “The knowledge among the citizenry of every aspect of EMS would be significantly better. One of our hospital CEOs went out into the field and did a 12-hour shift on the ambulance to get an idea of how we operate. One of our hospitals requires its nurses to do a 4-hour shift on a MedStar vehicle so they know the conditions in which we have to do clinical care and why a patient arrives the way they do.”

Zavadsky says the citizens’ academy and other similar community outreach programs, such as MedStar’s inaugural Explorer Post class that will begin in the fall, are good tools for recruiting individuals into the EMS service.

“We have a paramedic shortage in this country and we need to do more outreach,” Zavadsky says. “Arguably, a third of the participants in the citizens’ academy are interested in EMS, or at least something in healthcare. Two of our current employees were citizens’ academy participants. I don’t know who else might have gone into something else in healthcare as a result.”

The citizens’ academy is free but participants must be at least 18 years old and live or work in the MedStar service area.

For any agency wishing to start its own citizens’ academy, the MedStar academy class schedule and topics below can serve as a guideline.


Class 1 - Introduction to MedStar

  • Tour, system overview and history
  • Operational snapshot and accountability
  • Life on the street, the people who come when you call


Class 2 - EMS Starts Here

  • Emergency medical dispatch overview and system status management
  • Life on the line, the people who answer when you call 9-1-1
  • Tools of the trade


Class 3 - First Aid Basics, Chest Compressions/AED

  • First aid basics and the Heimlich maneuver
  • Chest compression and AED training


Classes 4 and 5 - Plug in and Ride out

  • Half class in Communications Center
  • Half class on ambulance ride-outs