The Degree Advocates

After a few minutes engaging this morning on the American Paramedic Association Facebook page, I’ve realized that many of those advocating higher education and a degree requirement for paramedics have little understanding of higher education or how higher education works.

There’s tons of people saying they need more science classes and advocating for specific EMS related courses. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of people also advocating against any humanities or liberal arts core curriculum coursework. I would submit to you that a course in research design and methodology like you see in many bachelor’s level social science curricula may be of much more long term benefit to EMS than a specific, technical course in the most recent innovation. Remember when backboards and rotating tourniquets were considered current EMS practice? However, a course in understanding research would enable the paramedic to have a lifetime knowledge base in evaluating EMS innovations and a healthy dose of skepticism, which is a virtual requirement for scientists and clinicians.

Many of these people arguing for an EMS degree don’t understand that college is designed to produce a well rounded education, even if the degree is in a specific field. There’s several people saying that the EMS associates degree needs to be a technical degree. What they don’t understand is that an Associate of Applied Science degree is often a terminal degree for a technical job. (Think ITT Tech or DeVry for those of us that remember the commercials on daytime TV.) And further, an AAS degree often doesn’t easily transition to a BS or BA degree in the future, even further limiting EMS career progression and upward mobility.

Bluntly, the more I see, the more I think an AAS degree will end up dooming EMS to remain a technical education with limited chance for upward mobility or further education. What I’m seeing is largely people engaging in either playing pretend at creating their dream college curriculum or wanting to turn card course curriculum into college hours.

I’m almost willing to come on board with requiring a degree for paramedic providers. However, I think we need to aim for the ideal and negotiate to what’s manageable. In my opinion, I believe that the role of a paramedic is actually that of an advanced practitioner with the ability (and likely the requirement) to exercise critical thinking and clinical decision-making. That critical thinking comes with an expanded knowledge base including the core liberal arts curriculum. And that level of education happens at the bachelor’s degree level.

The political process, which is ultimately how we’ll reach a decision on what education is required to be a paramedic, requires that we negotiate from an ideal solution to get to a realistic solution. The ideal is a paramedic with a bachelor’s degree, whether that’s a bachelor’s degree in paramedicine or a bachelor’s degree in another field, followed by a paramedic transition curriculum (see also the plethora of BSN transition programs for those with a BA/BS degree).

If we end up making the paramedic degree requirement an associate of applied science as many seem to be advocating, we’re dooming EMS to remain a technical field with limited upward mobility. An EMS degree, especially for the paramedic level, should not be in the same category as HVAC technicians or diesel mechanics. (Truth is, the average HVAC technician or diesel mechanic probably has a better salary than the average EMS provider — or even many so-called “white collar” jobs.)

As I’ve said before, we’ve got one chance to get the degree requirement right. Let’s not foul this up. And if we turn this into an echo chamber among ourselves and creating a curriculum that’s solely based on “cool new skills” for paramedics, we’re dooming ourselves with a degree requirement that ends up producing perishable skills that will be outdated within a few years of practice.