Evolving Education

Evolving Education

Jan 16, 2015

What makes somebody qualified to teach an EMT or paramedic class?  I took my first EMT class back in 1995 at night while I went to high school during the day.  I knew every single one of my instructors either personally, or more likely by reputation.  They were sage-like legends in the field of EMS.  They were the old guard.  And it was their job to educate the young, motivated naive students such as myself.

Fast forward to college and it was much of the same.  For the most part, the people who taught my second EMT class and my paramedic class already had twenty to thirty years in the field.  They lived and breathed EMS and would share story after story about what they encountered over the years.  They talked about the first time that they had to tie an ankle hitch because the one provided with the HARE had been lost under the bench seat, and that was why it was so important for me to learn how to do the same.

In May of this year, I will celebrate my fifteenth anniversary of getting a paycheck for working on the ambulance but my life in EMS extends a couple of years past that.  I got my start in the back end of what was the successful days of volunteer EMS.  We covered our calls, did not understand what a ROSC rate was, and were happy to get a CPR save pin every year at our department’s installation dinner.  Daytime ambulances were staffed by mothers who put their kids on the school bus and then turned the pager on, people who worked nights, or some of those legendary EMS providers who taught at night and were otherwise retired.  They donated their time which is something that does not happen very often anymore for a number of reasons some of them cultural, and others financial.  Any way you cut it though, volunteerism in EMS is all but done in most of the country.

So here we sit now, half way through this decade, and we need to figure out who takes the reins.  Many of those EMS legends are in the twilight of their careers, or unfortunately the field has passed them by.  Many states and many organizations are advocating for more formalized education such as associate and bachelor’s degrees for EMTs and paramedics.  The president is now pushing an initiative to make community college free for people who maintain a certain GPA which opens the door for those who argue that higher education is too expensive to afford on an EMS salary.

Now, I do not agree with much of what the president has done throughout his time in office.  I also can’t help but feel like this plan could potentially drive up the cost of four year private schools because some will not pursue them now that there is a free option available but that is another blog for another time.  If this plan goes through though it is in the best interest of our industry to get on board.  Failing to secure an educational chain at least up to the associate’s level will create the risk of turning at least the EMT level into a true minimum wage job.  Instead of going up, we will be going down.  A move such as the president’s higher education initiative is one that devalues education in a number of ways, however failing to stay at least on the ground floor, which at that point, will be the associate’s level puts us farther behind the curve than we already are.  Careers that are currently obtained at trade schools will now be moved to community colleges and become associate’s degree classes, and prospective EMTs will be left to choose between working in janitorial services and working on an ambulance.

There are a lot of big picture issues that we are going to have to deal with as a result of potential changes like this.  The entire face of EMS education is probably going to look completely different in five years.  How are we going to handle the people who have been at it for fifteen or twenty years?  And more importantly, without people already holding degrees, who is going to be teaching at these degree granting institutions?  While some community colleges look for on the job experience as a benchmark for competency in their selected field, “Most 2-year colleges prefer to hire teachers who hold at least a master’s degree in relevant subject matter, and some look for qualified instructors with doctorates in the appropriate fields.”  We need to get the ball rolling.  We need to start educating ourselves and preparing for the future.  Take a look at some of the EMT classes that currently exist.  With the structure of education today, and the fact that we are dealing with adult learners who cannot learn like students today intersecting with student learners who seem to learn more visually than they did fifteen years ago, simply being an EMS legend no longer qualifies you to be an educator.

If we are going to adapt, and ready ourselves for what EMS education will look like in 2020, we need to start now.  We need to start researching what it would take to start getting people up to the associate’s degree level, and we need to take a closer look at other industries that have done just that over the years.  We need to understand how they handled entry level positions and what they did with their existing workforce.  And we need to work on getting our leadership and more promising young EMS educators to higher degree levels.  We need to secure grant money for this, and establish scholarships to help people do so.

The system needs to be completely reworked.  We need to start doing this now, or we all risk becoming dinosaurs.