PARAMEDICS WITH DEGREES: THE KANSAS EXPERIENCE Kansas is a state of 82,300 square miles populated by 2.9 million residents organized into 105 counties. Even though the state has significant rural areas, Kansas ranks 16th in the nation for the number of residents with a bachelor’s level degree. Vast distances between the seven schools that offer paramedic education make attaining a college degree not only a financial challenge, but also a geographic challenge as well. Yet, the state made the ambitious decision to require all paramedics being trained in Kansas to have at least an Associate’s Degree prior to state licensure since 2001. What effect has this policy had? Well, it did not kill the provision of paramedic services in a very rural state or create a supply shortage driving wages to unsustainable levels as some had feared. The number of paramedics has continued to grow at a steady pace over the last 15 years with some paramedic schools having more applicants than classroom seats allowing for selectivity at the point of admission. Many paramedics experienced benefits. Some services did see a modest wage increase for paramedics. Graduating paramedics generally possess stronger English, math, anatomy, and physiology knowledge and are better positioned educationally to attain baccalaureate degrees or bridge in to nursing at the point that they are ready to leave the EMS field. State regulators in Kansas report few complaints about the requirement and other EMS leaders believe it is laying the groundwork for a future of more prepared EMS providers, leaders, managers, and educators capable of innovating and driving the industry to new heights.
Accreditation for the EMS Professions (CoAEMSP) to increase standards, polices, procedures and oversight should be pursued. It is important that as degree-based programs become the norm, they should continue to foster the independent nature of paramedic work, the value and necessity of basic life support skills and managing complex scenes. Degree-based programs should also emphasize competence on low volume high-risk procedures. SUPPORTING PARAMEDIC HIGHER EDUCATION To replicate the career ladders and practice opportunities available in other health care disciplines, EMS would benefit from reward systems that encourage the pursuit of advanced education. EMS agencies, providers, and educational facilities should explore a variety of funding opportunities as well as innovative incentive schemes both within and outside of traditional EMS systems to encourage more providers to pursue college degrees. Such incentives may, or may not, be financial. Meanwhile, national EMS associations should advocate for federal funding streams to develop national educational standards that incorporate a broader curriculum to better prepare and integrate EMS into the health care system at every EMS role and level (providers, educators, etc.) EMS should have access to the same federal programs for professional development that nursing has through the HRSA Bureau of Health Professions. Paramedics should also be recognized as a profession within the National Health Service Corps along with their primary care, mental health and dental counterparts. IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION Creating a more educated and innovative workforce needs to begin with training and recruiting high caliber educators. An educational system that not only teaches, but instills a commitment to high
MOUNT SINAI HEALTH SYSTEM | UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO
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