The Right EMS Degree

Because I haven’t thrown out any EMS dynamite in a while, here we go…

I oppose the idea of a mandated associates degree for paramedics. Much of what it will do is to guarantee a monopoly to community college programs. These programs are often judged by completion, not success on the licensing exam. Additionally, these programs are often unavailable in rural communities. Many of the community college programs have shown an unwillingness to provide distance education and/or adjusted schedules for students unable to do a full-time day program.

My solution? Make paramedic a post-bachelor’s certificate. By doing so, you’ve already guaranteed that you will have students who’ve demonstrated an ability to think critically, complete a course of study, and to communicate. In other words, much of the affective domain has already been evaluated and validated. I’d also surmise such a paradigm shift will have lower attrition and have graduates, who by the very nature of their education, have the familiarity with standardized testing to succeed at the National Registry as opposed to viewing it as a mysterious hurdle that represents the pinnacle of professional accomplishment. Whereas, the reality is that the National Registry represents the minimal competence to safely function as an entry level provider.

We’ve all said it’s easy to teach the skills of a paramedic, but it’s much harder to teach someone to think critically and relate to patients. By requiring a college degree before becoming a paramedic, we’ve already found people who know how to think and (hopefully) relate to others.

And before you say that paramedicine doesn’t pay well for someone with a bachelor’s degree, I’d encourage you to look at the salaries for teaching and social work, both of which require a bachelor’s at a minimum. The truth is that EMS can and does pay a decent salary to the motivated individuals who seek employment with the more professional EMS systems as opposed to the employers who operate on a “patch and a pulse” mentality. Eventually, bachelors’ level paramedics will require two things that many EMS systems are unwilling or unable to provide — namely a decent salary and a less toxic work environment.

This won’t (and can’t) happen overnight. I’d argue that we need to look at making this the requirement in the next ten to fifteen years. And to remove one obstacle, let’s agree from the outset to grandfather in everyone who’s licensed as a paramedic before that.

Further, let’s do two more controversial things at the same time. First, we need to demand that paramedic is the ONLY advanced provider in the field. No more “cardiac techs,” “Intermediate-99s,” or the like. Next, like any other real healthcare field, we should not require completion of a lower certification to enter a paramedic program. Paramedicine is a separate profession from the technician level providers and it’s time we recognize this.

In short, paramedicine needs to be a professional education, not a technical education — even if said technical education leads to a terminal level associate of applied arts/sciences with limited mobility into a bachelor’s degree.

If we don’t dream big, EMS professionals are destined to remain viewed as ambulance drivers by those in healthcare, business, and government who act surprised when you tell them there’s a difference between an EMT and a paramedic.