Ask any prospective paramedic student what they worry about trying to learn and you will likely get an answer that contains at least one of these words: Cardiology or Pharmacology. For some students – myself included the answer contained them both. Adding to my level of anxiety is the fact that the program I am attending is all but legendary locally for its program – and more legendary then the program is the exam – 200 questions – 100 multiple choice and 100 short answer questions relating to 14 different rhythm strips, with roughly a four hour time limit – Highest score ever on the test was a 98.
Interesting to me was the number of practicing medics sitting in the back of the room to “refresh” their knowledge base. The program allows it’s employees to sit in on Paramedic School lectures for CE’s – typical classes have one or two medics back there – Pharmacology had 5 or 6 – Cardiology had 15 – 20 easily EVERY NIGHT for the entire section.
We were told to purchase calipers – as there was no way we could pass the exam without them… Granted most medics don’t even carry them let alone use them in the field – but they wanted to be sure we knew how to break a strip – even the most complicated strip down.
The exam lived up to its reputation – it was EASILY the most difficult test I have ever taken – memorization wouldn’t have helped – the exam required a genuine understanding – after we took the test they told us that as far as they were concerned anyone who got a 70 on that exam was an expert in the field of pre-hospital ECG interpretation – I got a 92 – but I certainly don’t FEEL like an expert…
Cardiology started with the warning that the instructors goal for us was if someone ever asked us where we learned cardiology we didn’t embarrass them when we gave their names. Both of the instructors are captains at the division I want to work at and one of them is instrumental in the hiring process – cause you know the standard student anxiety over cardiology wasn’t enough for me – I had to ramp it up a little.
I have heard many times so far during school we don’t use a certain book for this because a good one doesn’t exist to teach you what we want you to learn (More experienced providers that write – take notice) Cardiology was an exception – they did have a book for that – but it’s interesting the one they choose.
Available from Amazon here if you are interested.
What makes Dr. Grauer’s book so interesting is that it is out of print – The program actually contacted Dr Grauer (he includes his contact information in the book in case you want to contact him about the book or cardiology in general – wow) to ask his permission to copy the book for their students – all 500 pages of it.
The process they taught us for breaking down a strip was methodical but lengthy – in fact it takes me 10 to 15 minutes to go through each step and wrote the findings out –
- P- Are p waves present in lead II
- Q – is the QRS wide or narrow – (if wide examine for BBB)
- R- Regular or irregular
- S – Single or married – are the wave complexes married to each other or separate
- Axis (fasicular blocks?)
- Right or Left atrial abnormality
- Left Ventricular Hypertrophy
- Pulmonary Disease pattern
- Infarction – any signs of infarction, strain or ischemia?
- Q – are Q waves present in any lead? are they pathological? are they expected in that lead?
- R – Is the R wave progression normal? where is the zone of transition?
- S – ST segment changes – Elevation, depression, strain pattern? Are the changes related to a vessel or global? What area of the heart is affected?
- T – Are there T wave changes? what do they indicate?
The answers to all of these questions only give you HALF of the information you need to interpret the strip – This just gives you the descriptive analysis of the strip – you have to take the patients presentation and past medical history into account or the “clinical impression” as the book calls it.
Dr. Grauer also says that to get the most accurate information possible from a strip you should try to have a prior strip available for comparison – and our instructors took that one step further – if you can actually get a prior strip (unlikely in our setting – but stranger things have happened) was it the patients strip on admission or on discharge ?
My head has been spinning with all the information contained in this module – Brugada’s Syndrome, Ashman’s Phenomenon, WPW (Type A & B), Default Vs. Usurping rhythms, differentiating between V-Tach and SVT with aberrant conduction, Fib-Flutter, the potential causes of a tall R wave in V1, the causes of QT prolongation…To the point where I have to run through the steps I listed above mentally or I end up staring at the strip with a blank look on my face.
The most reassuring message came after the exam – you don’t have to be an expert at this stuff now – nor do you have to be an expert during your rides… or even during your Field Internship when you get a job as a Medic… You DO have to be an expert when you are cleared to independent duty and are making the interpretation “solo” – That’s a relief I have probably another year of practice then.
Our instructors recommended several books and a few blogs to take our studies further – I’ll share them here in case some of you may be interested
Be good – get good – or give up