More than 200 Omaha Fire Department paramedics made their yearly pilgrimage to the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Monday for an opportunity to practice advanced life-saving skills on cadavers.
Lightly embalmed cadavers, prepared in a way that makes them more lifelike than the traditionally embalmed cadavers, give paramedics a better feel for some of the delicate procedures needed to save lives, such as intubating a patient, Capt. Seth Gruber said. He became a paramedic 3½ years ago and has been with the department for 14 years.
“Cadavers are more real,” Gruber said. “Mannequins are rubbery, so the anatomical differences are pretty significant. Practicing on cadavers makes our success rate a lot higher (in the field).”
Groups of about a dozen paramedics at a time observed as Dr. Eric Ernest, assistant medical director for the Fire Department, reviewed the latest practices for intubation, needle decompression of a collapsed lung and needle aspiration of the neck to create an airway.
The paramedics were all given the opportunity to practice their skills on the cadavers under the supervision of a UNMC physician. The donation of each body was arranged by the individuals before death.
“We are continuing to teach (paramedics) all the invasive skills they will need in the field,” Ernest said. “It’s a valuable resource for our Fire Department that gives them a hands-on training that they otherwise would not have. A lot of these procedures are difficult to practice outside an environment like this.”
New this year is the use of a camera attached to a laryngoscope that is inserted down a patient’s throat via the mouth. The images from the video are displayed on a monitor that emergency workers can see. It provides them a view of the patient’s larynx, which helps them safely reach the trachea without going into a patient’s stomach.
“In the past, we relied on a manual device and the provider’s own vision to try and see the airway, which sometimes can be very, very difficult,” Ernest said. “The video gives us a much clearer picture and provides us with higher success rates for intubation.”
Capt. Tim Klein, a paramedic shift supervisor, estimated that Omaha paramedics overall perform “a couple hundred intubations” each year. That breaks down to “one or two chances” for a paramedic to perform the procedure each year.
“Every body is built a little differently. Some people have short necks, long necks. There are different skills on intubating depending on body styles.”
The approximately 45-minute training program was conducted in the Advanced Anatomy Laboratory through the support of UNMC’s Department of Genetics.
“We can see pictures in books and classrooms, or someone can tell you how to do these procedures,” Klein said. “But when you do the procedure on a cadaver, that’s how you’re going to learn. This training increases the confidence of our paramedics that they have the skills they need.”