At just 24 years of age, McDowell Technical Community College graduate Andrea Wood has already seen more tragedy, trauma and death in her young life than anyone should have to see in a lifetime, and then some.
As a lead truck medic with McDowell County EMS, she has administered life-saving techniques at the scene of automobile accidents, dispensed emergency medications to people suffering a heart attack or experiencing a stroke, and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on people of all ages whose heart or lungs have stopped functioning for one reason or another.
Most people made it—they survived, they lived, they recovered. A few did not. But Andrea wouldn’t trade her job for any other. She has a paramedic’s skill and a public servant’s heart. She loves what she does.
“Choosing this career is the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said. “To be able to make a difference in someone’s life is a great feeling, and is one of the most rewarding jobs I can think of.”
Like other paramedics and EMT’s (emergency medical technicians) who’ve trained at McDowell Tech, offering care, comfort and medication to people in crisis is part of her daily routine. It is stressful work and can be mentally draining and physically demanding at times, lifting stretchers, extracting a patient from an accident “pin-in,” watching as life passes for a patient despite the heroic efforts of her team to avoid it.
It is often in those moments of crisis that Andrea’s servant heart shines brightest. Patient interaction is what she likes best about her job. She loves talking with patients, hearing their stories, offering them both physical and emotional support.
“Trauma and death are inevitable,” she continued, “and as a medical professional, you have to know your support groups, who to reach out to, and how to take care of yourself so that you don’t become a patient yourself.” She is fortunate that she has those people in her life—at work, at home and through other friendships.
Responding to pediatric calls are Andrea’s absolute favorite. “I love children,” she said, “and I love working with them and making them smile and feel better, even on their worst days.” That trait is evidently something that runs in her family; her mom, Wanda Wood, works with McDowell Children’s Network and has an office on the McDowell Tech campus, and her sister, Ashlee Wood, is a lead preschool teacher in the MTCC Child Development Center.
When she first started working in the field a few years ago, it took some time for her mom and dad—Jeff Wood—and her sister to get used to her schedule, coming home in the morning after a 24-hour shift and going straight to bed, for example, but they are very proud of her, and always have been, she said.
Her closeness with her family is not unexpected. Andrea was homeschooled growing up, graduating from Woodsong Academy in 2016. She, her sister and her parents were together all the time growing up.
In fact, when she enrolled in classes at McDowell Tech before she even finished high school, there was a little season of adjustment. She was used to studying by herself and just being with her sister, but classes at McDowell Tech naturally involved other people and team projects were standard in many of the classes she took at the college.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it, though,” said Andrea. “I loved the teachers, the classes and the process of enrolling was so easy.” When she graduated from high school, she received her Associate in Arts degree from McDowell Tech at the same time, having taken college classes while she was dually enrolled in high school. She immediately enrolled in the EMT program in the fall of 2016 through the college’s Department of Continuing Education. Completing that class, she entered the EMT-Advanced and Paramedic programs successively in the spring and fall of 2017. Over the next two years, she worked part-time for McDowell EMS while she completed the AEMT and paramedic programs.
In May, 2019, Andrea graduated from the paramedic program and began working full-time with McDowell EMS the following August. In December, she completed a second McDowell Tech degree, her Associate’s in Emergency Medical Science, the first to ever receive that degree from the college.
Andrea credits McDowell Tech with much of her technical and vocational success in the Emergency Medical field, but she gives equal billing to having great co-workers, like her work partner, Megan Ziegler, and supervisors, like Captain Donnie Tipton, a long-serving Paramedic and Paramedic Instructor, who recently retired from McDowell EMS. Getting used to long shifts and odd schedules—rotating 24 hours on and 48 hours off—has been easier because she loves the people she works with.
“It’s not like the TV shows,” she said of her profession. “When it’s you and that patient in the back of an ambulance, emotions can be high and adrenaline is pumping, but you have to stay calm. If you remember your basics and keep a calm head, it will save lives.”
She went on to say, “McDowell Tech teaches you a lot of things, but they can’t teach you how to be empathetic and patient. That is something that you have to have inside yourself or something you have to learn. When you’ve had a long and trying shift and you respond to call with someone who stumped their toe at 3 a.m. in the morning, you have to be just as cordial and professional to them as the person you dealt with on a more serious and critical call earlier in the shift.”
“Andi has commitment, compassion, service and empathy for her patients during patient care,” said Tipton, referring to Andrea by the nickname which many of her friends call her. “She was a very good student and now is a great paramedic. The county is lucky to have her.”
“We are proud of Andrea and all of our public safety graduates who are serving our communities selflessly every day of the year, sharing their public servants’ hearts while carrying a tool bag of knowledge and skills they learned at McDowell Tech,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President.
A recent economic impact study found that graduates of MTCC’s EMT program see additional lifetime earnings increase by $95,900.00. Former students of MTCC’s Emergency Medical Technician program added $872.4 thousand in income to the McDowell County economy in FY 2019-20.
The EMT, Paramedic and Law Enforcement programs are three of many programs that are eligible for free tuition through 2023 under McDowell Tech’s Learn and Grow Scholarship program.