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Top of her class

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Clear Creek woman named valedictorian of her paramedic class

By Ian Neligh

Dedicated, passionate and engaged in the science of saving lives, Clear Creek EMS employee Jessica Flippin recently graduated at the top of her paramedic school class.

Flippin was valedictorian out of 36 students finishing the 10-month St. Anthony paramedic school.

Nicolena Johnson, chief paramedic for Clear Creek EMS, said Flippin’s accomplishment was amazing.

“For 10-plus months, you put your life on hold, your friendships, relationships — you go to class more than 30 hours a week, plus studying,” Johnson said in a statement. “You take the equivalent of three college semesters, you work harder than you ever thought you could ... all the while you’re still working your regular job.”

Johnson said some wonder why people put themselves through the training.

“And the answer is this is one of the greatest jobs,” Johnson said. “People invite us into their homes, their private moments when all others are turned away. It’s truly a privilege to serve.”

‘A total fluke’

Flippin has worked in EMS in the county for four years. Born in Colorado, she grew up in western Nebraska and moved to Colorado in 2012 to attend college at the University of Colorado at Denver.

She never intended to work in emergency services. 

“It was actually a total fluke,” Flippin said. “I was originally pre-law when I started going to school and had a total change of heart (and) literally overnight decided that I wanted to go to medical school.”

Knowing it looked better for medical school students to have patient contact, she went to EMT school and got her first job working in Clear Creek County.

“And then the longer that I was here, I realized more and more I really enjoyed doing it,” she said, and after working in an emergency room, she decided working in hospitals wasn’t for her.

“So at that point, I kind of decided medical school probably wasn’t for me,” Flippin said. “And the next step obviously would be to go to paramedic school, and it has panned out wonderfully. I don’t regret it at all.”

Flippin remembers the first call she went on. A woman suffering from a severe asthma attack was saved.

“She’d quit breathing. By the time we got her down to the hospital, she was awake,” she said. “I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it just because that was a paramedic-level thing that I couldn’t do at the time — but just to see it, to witness it, even though I wasn’t a huge part of it, was — it’s hard to find a word for it.”

‘Know your stuff’

Flippin took her paramedic training seriously.

“Essentially being a paramedic is the highest level that you can be in the field, excluding flight nurses,” Flippin said. “But as far as being on an ambulance, a paramedic (is) pretty much in charge. There’s a whole lot more medications that you can give, a lot of more procedures that you can do.”

For nearly a year she worked full time, went to school full time and did her mandatory paramedic internship full time.

“So I would have to take time off during the day to go to class, and then I would come here at night and go back to class the next morning, come back here at night, pick up an extra shift when I could to meet my requirements,” Flippin said.

Not about the honor

Flippin said she was aware that the paramedic school had a valedictorian but doing well in her classes was never about looking to receive the award.

“My study habits and everything were more out of a fear that I was going to miss something, miss some detail that I was going to need to know when I had a patient in front of me,” Flippin said. “It just happened to pan out that I was at the top of the class.”

She said knowing every detail and being the best at the job of saving lives is essential in the county when sometimes the hospital is an hour away.

“Down in Denver they maybe have the benefit of being 15 minutes away from a hospital at any point ... but up here we could run a patient from St. Mary’s, Mount Evans, Mount Bierstadt ...” Flippin said. “You have to know your stuff.”