Life as a first-responder is an emotional rollercoaster, and Olsen, director of the Emergency Medical Services Professions (EMSP) program at Amarillo College, strives to prepare students for the peaks and valleys inherent to the profession.
“You may be in a bar ditch, upside down in a snow storm, trying to save a life . . . you have to be able to realize that bad things happen and you can’t fix it all, but at least you know you were there trying to help,” Olsen said. “That’s how I do it.
“I tell students that my main motivation is people need help and I get the opportunity to be that help, sometimes.”
Paramedics are the highest classified pre-hospital providers of medical care in Texas, and Olsen has been using his acquired skills to render aid ever since he completed the same paramedicine program at AC that he now administers.
A product of Vega, Texas, Olsen is a versatile academic. He also has an associate degree in ranch & feedlot operations from Clarendon College, a bachelor’s degree in geology from West Texas A&M University, and a master’s in education – with a perfect 4.0 gpa – from Eastern New Mexico University.
He became immersed in emergency medical services in the early 1990s, when he went to work for Amarillo Medical Services (AMS). He rose steadily through the ranks – from field paramedic to field training officer, and finally to operations supervisor, a role he held from 1997-2006.
Throughout his years with AMS, Olsen also taught classes in emergency medicine at AC on a part-time basis. When a full-time job opened up at the College in 2006, he embraced the opportunity because he loves to teach.
“I love it when I see students’ light bulbs go off – when they get a concept, and you can see the change. That really inspires me,” said Olsen, who ascended to his present post as EMSP program director in 2016.
AC’s EMSP program offers programs of study leading to basic and advanced emergency medical technician (EMT) certifications, and an advanced two-year degree program for those seeking to become licensed paramedics.
It’s a program that has blossomed considerably in the past couple decades.
“In the 1990s we had good stuff, but now we have great stuff,” Olsen, an associate professor, said. “The College has been extremely supportive. Our equipment today is amazing.
“We have what we call our “Labublance” – a simulated ambulance in our lab with a high-fidelity manakin, cameras and video, so our students have greater opportunities to learn than ever before.
“And thanks to a collaboration we have with Amarillo Medical Services, our final semester paramedic students are in the back of ambulances running actual calls under the watchful eye of working paramedics, an opportunity that’s invaluable.”
AC students also benefit from being enrolled in the Panhandle’s only program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). This is significant because Texas requires that paramedics not only pass a pre-employment national registry exam, but that they graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program before they even qualify to sit for that exam.
“Many of our students are hired before they even graduate,” Olsen said. “There is a high demand for our graduates. If they want a job, they can get one.”
As a program director, Olsen has a lot less opportunity to serve on the front lines of the first-responder community these days, though he does travel on Friday nights with the White Deer football team, monitoring the athletes’ health.
“I’m still active as a paramedic,” he said, “but as my hair gets grayer, I keep in mind that one day I may find myself on the ground and looking up into the eyes of one of our students. If it comes to that, I’ll certainly want to know they’re as good as they need to be.”
And with conviction he swiftly adds: “Trust me, they are.”