July 27, 2023 | Medicine, Operations, Our Team

Recruits put through paces at STARS Academy

Photo of clinical educator Chad Hegge teaching STARS Academy recruits in the STARS sim-lab.

The first time that nurse Wendy Lavallee saw STARS in her community, she knew she had to be part of the team.

“STARS has always been a dream of mine,” said Lavallee, a recent recruit in Manitoba. “I worked at the trauma centre in Winnipeg, and I would see STARS coming in, landing on the rooftop in the big red helicopter. That’s just where I wanted to be. I wanted to be up there.”

Lavallee is one of 12 participants in our annual STARS Critical Care and Transport Medicine Academy (CCTMA). On June 1, we celebrated the completion of Academy and not long after that, she and the other participants learned whether they passed. If so, they earn not only their certificates, flight suits and name badges, they earn the opportunity to care for the most vulnerable in our communities.

This privilege of providing critical care to the ill and injured takes a lot of work. At STARS, we only hire the best of the best to provide critical care to you and your loved ones. Then, we put recruits through 20 weeks of intense training to ensure they are prepared.

“Until I joined STARS Academy, I didn’t really understand how robust and cutting edge the education is,” said D.J. Weselowski, recruited as a flight paramedic at the Saskatoon base. “Everybody’s constantly reviewing what’s the best practice, what’s best for our patients and what the research says. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”

STARS partners with the University of Calgary to offer the CCTMA course through the Continuing Medical Education department. Typically, these are new STARS hires (nurses, paramedics), but occasionally there’s space in the program for external candidates.

“STARS places a high value on — and our donors believe strongly in this — continuing medical education. We just believe that it’s a fundamental part of what we do.”


Photo of STARS Academy recruits training with a human patient simulator.

The course places a heavy emphasis on pre-hospital care training through high-fidelity simulation utilizing a Human Patient Simulator. Our mannequins are responsive — they blink, breathe, react to medicine — making the training intensely real.

“Taking care of someone who is really sick is quite complicated,” said flight paramedic and educator, Chad Hegge, who has worked at STARS for 21 years. “During training, we focus on airway, breathing, circulation and communication. Then we take those skills and we apply them to everyday emergencies, whether it be cardiac, trauma, medical, pediatrics or obstetrics.”

Megan Klassen, a flight nurse recruit in Winnipeg, found the simulation training challenging and rewarding.

“Going through nursing school, we don’t do a lot of sim training,” she said. “STARS educators did a really good job at building on topics throughout the day, and then we would go into the sim lab and apply those topics to real patients, and even though it’s not real life, they made the experience as real as possible.”

Andrew Buchanan has attended STARS Academy twice. The first time was as an external candidate in 2018 while he was working as an integrated firefighter paramedic, a job he held for 14 years.

Upon graduation, he set a new career goal to work at STARS as a paramedic. “Academy ignited my passion for critical care, to continue learning, to keep developing myself as a practitioner,” he said, adding the second time around only amplified his skills.

“That’s the amazing thing about medicine, it changes and evolves,” said Buchanan.

All of us at STARS believe we owe it to the next patient who needs us to maintain such a high standard of care.

“STARS places a high value on — and our donors believe strongly in this — continuing medical education. We believe it’s a fundamental part of what we do,” said Hegge.

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