Kansas native heeds call to care for Coloradans

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Shawn Howe, 37, grew up in western Kansas, just miles from the Colorado state line. With aspirations of going to medical school, Howe earned his bachelor’s degree in science from Kansas State University. He decided not to stay in school for so much of his life, and followed his brother to Colorado Springs. While working in landscaping, Howe attended Pikes Peak Community College and trained to become an emergency medical technician. He was hired by American Medical Response and recently took over as operations manager for its El Paso County operations. Howe sat down with the Business Journal this week and discussed his rise in one of the world’s most stressful — yet rewarding — professions.

Why become an EMT instead of a doctor?

Less school. Surprisingly, I got really good grades at Kansas State during my undergrad. I wasn’t the best student. That’s why it’s surprising. Looking at going to school for that much longer wasn’t what I was into at the time. I really just wanted to get into it.

That’s why I took the EMT class. It was one semester. I was hired [at AMR] before I got my certification. … I continued to think about going to med school even after I got my paramedic [certification], but I got married, had a family and my priorities switched.

The position I’m in is a new position for me. I’ve been office manager for four months and I was interim manager for a couple months. It’s new and exciting figuring out this role. I’m happy now, but later in life I might consider a [physician assistant] program or reconsider medical school.

Talk about your progression with AMR.

I started as a brand-new EMT. I was nervous on pretty much every call. It’s a different environment that people outside the profession don’t really understand.

People talk about police and firemen running in while everyone else is running out. This is kind of the same thing. If someone has a major medical event, they’re relying on us to take control of that situation. As a new EMT, that’s one of the hardest things to train for. I’ve been a paramedic since the end of 2002 and still do some calls. Five years ago, I became operations supervisor.

When the operations manager position opened, I was interim manager for two months. As a field supervisor, I was overseeing day-to-day operations and working with crews and issues they were dealing with. The operations manager looks at the total picture — financials, budgets, contracts. … We have lots of partnerships with fire departments and hospital systems.

As manager, I make sure I’m getting out and ensuring those relationships with our community partners are strong.

Have the recent shootings in Colorado Springs meant re-evaluating procedures? 

We just had our after-action report for the Black Friday shootings [at Planned Parenthood]. All the feedback on our crews and supervisors has been nothing but awesome. I hate to say it’s what we live for, but we train for that. The crews really stepped up Black Friday and the shooting a couple weeks before that.

We haven’t had any mandated training come out of that, but AMR has task groups nationwide to look at how individual operations handle events like that. And because AMR is national, we were able to pull resources from Denver and Pueblo [on Black Friday]. We had 12 ambulances assigned to that incident, but we also had regional help.

Most people’s jobs really aren’t a matter of life and death. How do you deal with that responsibility?

Everyone handles it differently. Most people in this profession don’t like to talk about it. There is a lot of stress with this job and it’s one thing as a profession we’re not good at.

We’re not good at talking with other people about how we’re feeling and we keep it inside.

EMS has a pretty high turnover and burnout rate because of that. One employee-driven thing we’re looking at is a peer-support program. UCCS and the Colorado Springs Fire Department put one in place a few years ago and we’re looking at their model.

We offer [employee assistance programs], but in general, we don’t talk about that stuff.