Marti Breiter Lilja: Paramedic Training Pioneer

Inver Hills Community College

Former Inver Hills EMS director makes donation to college

Marti Breiter Lilja served as director of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program at Inver Hills Community College from 2000–2006. Marti recently donated $30,000 to the college to support the EMS program. Her history as a trailblazer in emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic training at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), formerly Hennepin County General Hospital, in the 1970s and 1980s along with her EMS role at Inver Hills inspired her to convey the gift.

“Throughout my career, EMS education has been a pillar,” said Marti, who started her journey in the health care profession as a registered nurse (RN). “I knew from firsthand experience that the EMS program at Inver Hills is one of the best. The faculty have tremendous energy and expertise. They not only teach, but also have jobs in EMS. They work it; they know it. They give their students a real-life perspective. The program develops very strong, very capable paramedics.”

Half of Marti’s $30,000 gift created and endowed the Marti Breiter Lilja Scholarship. One third of her gift, $10,000, went to the EMS Equipment and Technology Fund; this donation was matched 1:1 by the Minnesota State Leveraged Equipment program to establish a $20,000 fund. One sixth of her gift, $5,000, supports the Health Care Professional Development and Innovative Learning Fund; this donation was matched 1:1 by the Mardag Foundation to establish a $10,000 fund.

More about Marti…

Marti grew up in Lake Crystal, a city of 2,600 residents (1,800 at the time) in Blue Earth County near Mankato, Minnesota. After high school, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) from the College of Saint Teresa, a Catholic women’s college in Winona that operated from 1907–1989.

She worked briefly as a graduate nurse in cardiac surgery intensive care on the Saint Mary’s campus of the Mayo Clinic. She later worked as an RN at Hennepin County General Hospital, also in an intensive care setting. Her life would change dramatically in 1974 when she was asked to take on a program development and teaching role in a groundbreaking paramedic program.

In the early 1970s, two doctors, who were also the first graduates of the Hennepin County Emergency Medicine Program at General, began a novel program focused on training pre-hospital professionals—ambulance personnel, police and firefighters—in emergency medical practices. The ambulance personnel developed the skill sets they needed to become EMTs and, ultimately, paramedics.

“I became a nurse to help people and I loved doing cardiac care nursing,” Marti said. “I accepted the new teaching position when I realized I could do more good by devoting myself to educating many pre-hospital people to give good patient care than by my giving care alone.”

The future of EMS…

Advances in emergency medical care are not slowing down. The skill level of paramedics will continue to increase—and we will always need more and more trained pre-hospital care professionals. The demand is huge. New technology will also have a beneficial impact on the quality of care.
Marti Breiter Lilja, Inver Hills EMS Director, 2000–2006

Marti wrote the curriculum for the new paramedic program and served as the program’s director and EMS instructor for 12 years. In 1985, she took on a broader administrative role as the quality assurance officer for emergency medical services throughout Hennepin County. Although she had retired from Hennepin County, when the opportunity to become interim EMS program director at Inver Hills arose in 2000, Marti welcomed the challenge. The original plan was for her to serve in that capacity for half a year or so. That first six months turned into six years.

“We were starting the program’s national accreditation process when I came on,” Marti recalled. “I stayed on because I loved the academic setting on campus. I admired the EMS faculty’s dedication and innovation, and the effort they made to mentor and find quality mentors for students in their program. Inver Hills is also a fun place to work.”

More about the gift…

After receiving an inheritance from her sister, Marti looked for ways to share her good fortune. She settled on the Inver Hills EMS program, knowing how much students needed financial assistance to cover their college expenses. She also knew faculty were continually seeking opportunities for professional development as well as ways to keep their program current with ongoing innovations in emergency care. Providing resources to obtain leading-edge equipment was another way to benefit students who would go on to save lives as highly trained paramedics.

Scholarship recipients
Rebekah Stai
Rebekah Stai

Rebekah Stai, a 20-year-old EMS alumna, is a 2015 home-school graduate from Dennison, Minnesota. Rebekah earned her EMS Traditional Track Paramedic Associate of Science (A.S.) degree in 2017. She resides in Bloomington and works as a paramedic at North Memorial Ambulance. She received the first $500 Marti Breiter Lilja Scholarship in fall semester 2016.

“The Marti Breiter Lilja Scholarship came at the perfect time as my student loans were piling up and I was nearing the end of my degree,” Rebekah said. “It was amazing to have money to put toward my degree even before I was out of school. I had the privilege to meet the scholarship donor and she was amazing! I’m so thankful for the opportunities I was given.”

Tim Keller, a current EMS student from Eagan, Minnesota, will receive a $500 scholarship in fall semester 2017. A 2008 graduate of Shakopee High School, Tim has a B.A. from Hamline. His goal is to become a full-time firefighter-paramedic; he currently works for the Eagan Fire Department as volunteer firefighter and EMT. His wife Kirstie is enrolled in the Nursing program at Inver Hills and they are raising a 2-year-old daughter.

“I found working in an office environment unfulfilling and dull so I began to explore my options,” Tim said. “I settled on paramedic due to the fast pace and the outdoor nature of the work, two things I enjoy greatly. I’m very excited to finally be pursuing a career I can see myself doing for the foreseeable future. Not only can I help myself by enjoying what I do, but I will also be in a position to help so many others by performing my job quickly and effectively—and that excites me even more.”

Advice for future paramedics…

Get your A.S. degree. That degree is such a good building block and provides a jumping-off point to a range of health care careers. Students in our EMS program get great exposure to patients, paramedics in the field and other health care professionals, including doctors and nurses. That experience is essential.
Marti Breiter Lilja, Inver Hills EMS Director, 2000–2006

Marti, aka HAL® S3004 • 1-year-old pediatric simulator

Inver Hills EMS students work with Pediatric HAL®, a cousin of HAL® S3000, another EMS program manikin, thanks to Marti Breiter Lilja’s donation to the EMS Equipment and Technology Fund. Nicknamed “Marty” by EMS faculty and students, Pediatric HAL® is a patient simulator that “allows you to take advanced simulation where you need to train. It may be at an accident scene, in an ER, an EMS vehicle, or even in a PICU. HAL® remains fully functional while being moved from place to place. This ‘care in motion’ allows you to evaluate both team training and how well patient ‘hand-offs’ are conducted.” — Gaumard Scientific

Marti with Marty
Marti with Marty
To learn more about EMS at Inver Hills, contact:

Jeff Morgan
Director of Emergency Services

To learn more about scholarships and the Inver Hills Foundation, contact:

Gail Morrison
Executive Director
Leslie Krona
Scholarship and Alumni Coordinator

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