Ryan Kirk is the first undergraduate recipient of the EKU’s scholarship for online students. EKU Online’s Omega Nu Lambda scholarship recognizes academic and community achievement among online students.. He is a paramedic earning a bachelor’s degree in emergency medical care with a concentration in emergency services administration.
He enrolled in the EKU Online program to invest in his future. He expected to earn his diploma and slowly advance his career over time. “Certain ranks are only achievable with a degree. It felt like that was a long way away, but I was planning ahead,” explained Ryan. Learning about EKU Online scholarship opportunities was a great way to continue his education.
As a paramedic, Ryan’s job is preparing for the unexpected. He has too many memorable moments to count. He will gladly tell you about his best days. He particularly enjoys running calls where he gets to deliver babies. Other days are more stressful.
The most challenging point in his emergency medical care career was August 2017. He was working as a volunteer paramedic in Charlottesville, Virginia during a high-profile demonstration prompted by the removal of Civil War statues. Protestors, who identified as white nationalists, obtained a permit to demonstrate in Lee Park. The city mobilized for large crowds and national news coverage related to pre-planned events in designated areas.
On Friday, August 11, however, another unauthorized event was taking shape. Authorities were tipped off by multiple area retailers who reported that Tiki torches were being sold in large numbers.
That evening, Ryan staffed a medic ambulance as marchers made their way across the University of Virginia campus chanting white supremacist slogans and carrying lit torches.
“Seeing that was a surreal experience,” said Ryan. When a fight broke out, several people were physically assaulted. Some had minor burns. The Virginia State Police were called in to restore order. Thankfully, Ryan’s team only witnessed minor injuries, but tensions were high.
The following day, they were briefed by the FBI. Ryan remembers being told that extremists might threaten them with carfentanil, a lethal opioid 10,000 times stronger than morphine. His assigned role was stabilization team manager. “As the closest EMS group to the incident, it was our job to take care of the first responders and call a transport unit for any injured civilians,” he explained.
Although the atmosphere was charged, his team did not see much activity for most of the day. That changed when someone threw tear gas. In an instant, chaos ensued. For safety, all teams were ordered to return to their respective staging areas.
That’s where he was when a driver intentionally drove a vehicle into the crowd.
The first medical unit on the scene administered CPR to Heather Heyer 32-year-old paralegal who did not survive the attack. Ryan was dispatched as the second medic unit. Two people had significant but non-life-threatening injuries. The priority was a third woman who was severely injured. “She was crushed between two cars. Both legs were broken, and her back was broken,” he remembers. All three people were treated and transported to the hospital.
Typically, EMS and paramedic workers and do not know what happens to victims after they are treated. In this case, however, the woman’s friends set up a GoFundMe account for the victims of the attack and their families. That’s how Ryan learned that he had cared for the most severely injured survivor that day. Occasionally, she shares updates with the public group about her injuries and her recovery process.
When asked if the Charlottesville rally is the proudest moment of his career, EKU Online scholarship winner, Ryan hesitates. “There are so many moments, and so many calls large and small,” he said. He describes EMS as helping people on what is possibly the worst day of their lives.
These days, a significant part of his job is preparing others. After giving trainings at the fire academy, he began to consider teaching as the next step in his career. But he did not think a position would open with his current employer for a while. Then the director of the paramedic program announced he was leaving for another position.
“That’s a difficult job to fill because it does require a bachelor’s degree,” said Ryan. “I provided my transcripts to show that I would be graduating in a few weeks, and I got the job!”
Ryan is now interim director, and he will be named acting director when his degree is awarded. He is eager to make a real difference in his new role. In just 90 days, he was able to increase program attendance from 10 to 30 people. He is also making a name for himself on the state level. This fall, he will give a presentation on evidence-based treatment options for sickle cell anemia at the Virginia EMS Symposium. The session is based on an assignment he completed for one of his undergraduate courses.
His education has had unexpected outcomes at home as well. His 11-year old twin daughters have been interested in his courses. They even designed a logo for a fictitious company he created for an assignment. Their proud dad gave them credit for their work when he turned in the project, and his instructor reached out. “I shared the comments from the professor with them, and I could see how excited they were,” he said.
Education has already made a difference in Ryan’s career, and he hopes his children see that. “I hope they watch me walk at graduation and know that this time has been exciting and enjoyable for me. Maybe that’s contagious. I hope it is!”
Learn more about EKU Online scholarships and how you can earn your associate or bachelor’s degree in EKU’s online emergency medical care program for paramedics. Give yourself a competitive edge in the job market by earning your degree from a SACSCOC accredited university that has been an online education leader for more than 15 years. Complete the form above to get started.