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Administration & Leadership, EMS, EMS 2.0

Educational Standards in EMS

I was in a Facebook back and forth (don’t you just love those) with some EMS leaders not long ago and we got onto the topic of higher education in EMS.

“Of course we need to raise the standards, but how do we sell it to the masses who won’t get it?”

The conversation wandered through selling higher education to the older, more entrenched folks in EMS and how to grand father them into the new standards.  In other words, we were all discussing how much “street time” would allow someone to still operate at the lower standards.

There were some suggestions as low as 5 years.

I started the conversation at 20 years and there were IMs of “Good luck finding someone who lasted that long!”


Where is the cutoff?  How old do you need to be to let me ignore your excuses of achieving an Associates degree?

Yes, a 2 year program to start is what I’m pushing for.  For EMT-Basics.

“Whoa, Justin.  You don’t need an AS to run IFTs.” Is a response I got.  No, no you don’t but if you want someone who wants to be there and has proven their ability to meet the requirements of the program, won’t that improve your product?  And what about an employee who has proven proficiency in writing, speaking, reading, basic sciences?  Aren’t they a better match for you?  They make fewer errors and can communicate far better.

Or do you just want a warm body in the seat to meet State and Federal Reimbursement Requirements?


I don’t expect me now to go back and get my education at my current point in life.  Asking someone in their 40s to go back to University and earn a BS in Science is a bit of a stretch, but not impossible.  Not any BS, but a BS in the sciences, preferably pre-med.

I am currently considering a Master’s program in Homeland Security.  Everytime I discuss advancements in triage and tracking of MCIs, my new favorite hobby, I am met with “What about a terrorist attack?”  So, I’m looking into an education about just that topic.

If I can juggle that program, perhaps my brothers and sisters on the box can fit a part time community college schedule into their lives?

Or is there a deeper fear within us that putting our ranks through school will decrease our ranks?  After all, why put in all this effort, time and money if we can just apply to the Fire Department that barely requires a GED anymore?

Because we’re better than that.

EMS is past our middle aged crisis of identity, the wide spread acceptance of Community Programs rooted in EMS structure show us that.  Now how will we repay those who came before us?  By whining in the corner that the burger flippers figured out how to get more pay instead of lobbying for ourselves?  By complaining that 120 hours is enough to be certified to jock a box at age 18 and that higher education is an inconvenience?


Apparently so.

Is asking for an AS degree to be certified EMT by 2020 too much to ask?

Is asking for an AS degree to be certified Paramedic by 2020 too much to ask?

Should an AS in EMS be an Emergency Paramedic and a BS in EMS be a Critical Care Paramedic?

What does a Masters in EMS get me?

What does a PhD in EMS get me?

What does it get US?  Perhaps we’ve all been asking the wrong question.

So here I sit, watching my little ones, aged 10 and almost 8 run around our house that needs a roof, gutters and a ton of yard work and wondering how I can juggle all this PLUS an advanced degree program.  And I think I have it figured out.


What’s your excuse?

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  1. 9 ECHO 1 April 2, 2016 5:03 pm

    Age is NO excuse. Started my AS at 26 finished at 29. Started my BS at 48, finished at 57.

    What did it get me?

    I am a better person for it because I set a goal and met it. Plus it awakened the curiosity of “why?” and not just “how?”

  2. Gary Walter April 2, 2016 8:42 pm

    I finished my bachelor’s at age 37, and a masters in EMS at age 57 – three months ago. It’s doable and needed.

  3. George Rodgers April 2, 2016 11:58 pm

    Not sure about what exactly your standards are but we in the UK are having a similar debate. Traditionally the route was apprentice based with time as an EMT (different names around country) followed by a short Paramedic course. I know may fine medics who have followed this route. Currently it is Foundation degree (diploma) in Paramedic Science and will soon be BSc (Batchelor) entry level ( proffessional governing body) followed by Masters to move onto more advanced practice. I gained my degree in my 40s after military service so it is very doable. I can only see it improving the EMS role for us to be higher qualified as this will improve patient care which what we are all about. Our role is developing and our practice getting wider. Here we are on par with registered nurses and have autonomy to see, treat, transport or discharge patients. To do this we need the best possible education. From what I see mainly via TV you are in a very similar position.

  4. Aidan E. Tasker-Lynch April 3, 2016 3:54 am

    What does it all “get the patient” is much more to the point …

    • Justin April 3, 2016 7:26 am

      Exactly. Thanks for reading.

  5. Deborah Ramirez April 3, 2016 10:43 am

    Texas is currently pushing the degree program for all people doing advanced emt or paramedic. It isn’t mabdatory yet, but we seem to be headed there.

  6. Alicia April 3, 2016 3:47 pm

    It’s not too much to ask medical professionals to have a good education, however your asking someone to get degrees and still get paid property level wages. EMT is entry level position and with experience in the field they get better. It is also an issue that a degree in paramedicine is not popular and not provided by many colleges. If someone is going to do a pre-med education might as well just go all the way. I am always for more education and continuing education in your field. It’s really a loaded Q and A with many factors.

    • Justin April 4, 2016 8:38 am

      Hi Alicia, yes I am asking them to get degrees. Starting with an AS. Basic language and writing skills, sciences and EMT of course, as well as some other basic introductory classes. Then later apply that work towards a BS, more science, more A&P, more language arts, reading, studying. The goal is to teach them useful skills to improve themselves later. All for the benefit of the patient. You mentioned in your comment that it is not too much to ask professionals to get a good education. I agree. Currently, however, the same 40 folks speaking on the same 40 topics at most conferences isn’t an education, it is a refresher. I’ve had it with refreshers myself. Thanks for reading.

  7. BH April 5, 2016 9:19 pm

    After all, why put in all this effort, time and money if we can just apply to the Fire Department that barely requires a GED anymore?

    Welcome to my entire state’s EMS system. That plus a 200-hour class gets you IV/IO, CPAP, ETI, everything the monitor can do, and 39 medications. It’s all the FD-EMS services are interested in so that’s all anybody does. (Those who ARE interested in learning more generally leave the state once doing so).

    It’s the culture of “good enough”. Makes for great patient care. And your union brothers work very hard to make sure it stays that way, btw.

  8. dinesh April 6, 2016 3:48 am

    nice post

  9. Ari May 20, 2016 5:02 am

    A really great example of an EMS service that encourages paramedics to have a degree is Israel’s Magen David Adom. Here is a link to an article about that program at Ben Gurion University: http://www.israel21c.org/training-paramedics-from-jordan-and-israel/ (Unfortunately, the actual program page is in Hebrew)

    It might be worth talking to these folks about building a stronger EMS education standard. When I volunteered with them in 2010, I had the amazing opportunity to see their operations up close and personal, fascinating stuff.

    Also, I am currently in a homeland security masters program, so if you have questions, I will be happy to answer them!


  10. Brandon Turnbow May 24, 2016 12:59 pm

    I worked for a community college for 5 years. The program pushed and pushed to make it an AS program only. Unfortunately the stakeholders did NOT support this. They were just fine with a certificate program, with many stake holders still in favor of EMT and paramedic classes being held in the back of a volunteer fire station. I am NOT knocking my firefighter brothers and sisters, however at some point we must hold prehospital clinicians to a higher standard. When I would ask if it be acceptable to offer LVN or RN classes in the same fire department you would have thought I wanted to burn Ms. Nightingale at the stakes.

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