Recruitment and Retention: More of the Same

I was thinking about some of the recruitment issues that EMS is facing. Lots of large, well known departments are having challenges filling paramedic vacancies. Over the last decade, many of them have gone away from double medic staffing because of the shortage of paramedics.

Yet, we all know of EMS services, most of which are smaller and/or lesser well known, that are approaching full staffing. Funny thing is that many of these services aren’t even the best paid in their area or state.

I think we need to look at them and see what they’re doing. My guess is that it has a lot to do with culture and working environment. Those things tend to keep people around a lot more than a department appearing in the EMS media and/or having a “celebrity” EMS chief or medical director. The truth is, having supportive management, a station to return back to, and equipment that consistently works is going to make more of a difference in your EMS career than “working under Celebrity Medical Director” who’s regularly published and presents at all of the EMS conferences. And here’s where I’ll issue my semi regular reminder that the “Gathering of Eagles” (which some rightfully refer to as the Gathering of Egos) represents the medical directors of the fifty largest EMS systems in the country, NOT the fifty best EMS systems in the country.

And while we’re talking about that, more than a few of those EMS “celebrities” remind me of Paris Hilton – famous for being famous. An EMS organization that’s social media savvy or has an extensive PR program can have an outsized influence or reputation that may not match their actual reality, either operationally or clinically.

In that spirit, I share the following link from EMS1. The article should be titled “Water is Wet” as the statements are obvious and it’s basically the usual EMS commentary. People trying to solve the problems they created in the first place.

If there is one thing that EMS excels at, it is our uncanny ability to believe that the people who created much of the current EMS mess, whether it’s education, operations, or clinical standards, can and should be trusted to sit on the next “blue ribbon panel” or “stakeholder group” to solve the problems they created in the first place. It’s little wonder that we still see EMS employers offering sign-on bonuses for so-called “high performance” EMS jobs which mean little more than a punishing call volume while you bounce around a city from parking lot to parking lot.

So long as EMS promotes the same celebrities who caused the problems they’re trying to solve, EMS will remain where it’s at. The solution? Look for the jobs at the departments that aren’t continuously hiring. Ask around. People who’ve been around for a few minutes in EMS know which jobs those are. Hiring bonuses, pizza parties, and self-promotion will only help a dysfunctional organization limp along so long. And until political leaders understand EMS and actually support EMS — with funding — these “celebrities” combined with the usual cabal of professional EMS committee members and stakeholders will continue to hold EMS back. And that extends absolutely to the current staffing crises we’re dealing with.

If you’re an EMS chief/director or a medical director and you’re wondering if this post is about you, it is well worth asking why people are leaving (or not applying). And actually addressing the problem rather than just boosting pay or giving incentives. People know the salary coming into a job. What they never know is what they have to put up with for the salary. Way too many EMS organizations ask people to put up with way too much for way too little salary. And that truth applies to volunteers too.