Psychology doctoral students help train EMTs to deal with impaired patients


UIndy-EMS-ClassUIndy graduate psychology students Hilary Duckworth and Jordan Soper recognized a need in the city’s healthcare sector—and did something about it. While working at the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis and Marion, the pair kept hearing stories about patients having issues with police or medical personnel. They began to realize that first-responders often don’t have adequate training to help them deal with people who struggle with mental illness or exhibit other signs of psychological difficulties.  Soper and Duckworth took their problem to David Wantz’s Consultation and Education class, which focuses on the ways that clinical psychology skills can be transferred into consulting skills.

The women saw a need to create a training program to be used with new recruits at the Indianapolis Department of Emergency Medical Services. The goal would be to create a program that could teach emergency medical personnel how to interact with people who might have a mental illness or other mental condition that can be challenging or confusing. Wantz worked with the women on how to create a training program and encouraged them to use their knowledge of human behavior in solving the problem. He then connected the two students with Dr. Charles Miramonti, the chief at the Indianapolis Department of Emergency Medical Services, who was eager to work with the UIndy students and include their work as part of the six-week training program for new EMS recruits.

“The program really enhances our existing EMS Academy curriculum, providing skills and instruction that our recruits wouldn’t gain anywhere else,” says Dr. Miramonti. “Bringing in these doctoral students has been a great experience for our new providers.” Working as part of a class project, Soper and Duckworth and fellow grad student Lori Nabors spent much of the semester developing a training program for the recruits. They not only created a two-hour classroom portion of the training but also developed scenarios for role-playing with the recruits. “Day-to-day interactions can be challenging for some people with mental issues,” explains Duckworth. “We wanted to work with the EMS responders because they may interact with a patient for a long period of time, especially if transportation is involved. We wanted to de-stigmatize mental illness with this group of first responders.”

The goal of the training is not to turn first responders into clinicians, but rather to teach them what the signs and symptoms of various illnesses look like. Using role-playing over the course of three days, Duckworth, Soper, and Nabors showed the recruits how post-traumatic stress disorder presents, what the signs of substance abuse can look like, and how to identify symptoms of autism, for example. “The patients are in a vulnerable situation and might lash out or become angry,” says Soper. “We’re teaching the recruits how to de-escalate a situation by using a calming voice, making eye contact, and asking the person how they are feeling, rather than just assuming. “Yes, the person may have a mental health issue, but they are a person first.”

Daniel Lewis, the Emergency Medical Services training officer, has been pleased with the program and with the positive response from the recruits. “The grad students came with open minds and brought a depth of knowledge to the program that you can’t get out of a textbook,” he says. “They brought their clinical experience and were able to answer questions on a much deeper level.” Duckworth, Soper, and Nabors are leaving the city to pursue internships this fall, but they are working to make sure that the program here continues. Other UIndy psychology graduate students are planning to continue the training, and there are hopes of creating a long-term integration between UIndy and the IEMS. “We can help the state through this training program,” says Soper, “and we will be able to take it with us wherever we go. It has the possibility of being a national program, including pursuit of other angles that integrate psychology and medical health care. “It’s great to see something in action that helps the community.”

Photo: “Patient” Lori Nabors & IEMS’s Elizabeth Hook