MISSOULA — Around 250 University of Montana students received their diplomas at the school’s fall commencement over the weekend.
Among the group of graduates were members of UM’s new paramedicine program, which is delivered through a community partnership with Missoula Emergency Services.
In reflecting on the 16-month program, graduate Jack Pickhardt couldn’t help but note the toll the pandemic has taken on his classmates.
“It's been really busy the last year, and I think more than anything, I think it's just been kind of a drain on everybody,” said Pickhardt.
Rain or shine, first responders like Pickhardt have powered through the pandemic.
“There have been a lot of people getting quarantined, several people have gotten pretty sick, and a couple of people got that long haul syndrome,” explained Pickhardt, “So it's been a challenge just keeping people on the engines, but we've made it happen.”
As some people reconsidered their career paths in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, Pickhardt’s loyalty to Missoula Fire only grew.
“At the fire department, we've been working on upping our numbers of paramedics so that we can hopefully have one paramedic per engine at all times in the city.”
As of last weekend, Pickhardt is officially one of those paramedics. He’s already dedicated seven years to Missoula Fire, but if the pandemic taught him anything, it’s that emergencies don’t stop for a virus.
His department needed more advanced life support capability, so he went back to school and got it.
“I’m just excited to get to do more for Missoula,” said Pickhardt.
Fortunately for Missoula, Pickardt wasn’t alone in his decision to reinforce the city’s emergency services this year.
“I was an EMT for a little bit, but I felt like I couldn’t do enough,” recalled Quinlan Roe.
Another graduate of the University of Montana’s paramedic program, Roe’s career path was nearly derailed by COVID.
“I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go, and that’s when COVID was starting to hit. I applied to a bunch of programs and got accepted to a bunch, but then a few of them got put on hold or decided not to do it right then because of COVID,” he told MTN News.
The uncertainty of out-of-state paramedic programs prompted Roe to stay in Missoula, but with every emergency call and adrenaline rush, he’s grateful to give back to the community that raised him.
“It’s great to show up on someone’s worst day and be the guy that’s there to calm them down.”
For Roe, the pandemic’s impact on the community and his own life has only reinforced his career choice.
“It made me realize how we’re on a thread as a society, like if something really bad happened how easily we wouldn’t have enough hospitals, enough rooms…so it made me realize that, which means there’s more need now than ever.”
Roe plans to continue his education, eventually becoming a PA.