I recently attended the EMS World Expo in Las Vegas and heard many ideas on how to improve EMS as a whole from responder to system. Surprisingly, one of the more controversial suggestions was higher education for EMS providers affiliated with current training. One side argues that providers will be no more than mere technicians without collegiate stature. The other side argues that continuing education is more than adequate since most providers across the nation are volunteer and time constraints would cause less volunteerism and more shifts to be covered. Of course, EMS is a tangled ball of interconnected arguments that have left us in an adolescent quagmire of how to proceed in our growing pains and the above discussion can lead in several different directions, none of which discuss the place of higher education in EMS.
Before you all get too excited, I am not going to trumpet the benefits of either side as it pertains to EMS. I would like to point out general benefits to attending college, even if you don’t graduate for several years and take the sloooooooooow road (like this author). An important point to note is that your degree does not necessarily need to be EMS related, and it is probably a benefit if it is not. Take a look at degrees related to business, public administration, government or anything that will assist in a management/ leadership role as an alternative to nursing or medical related degrees.
The Author hard at work.
Higher Education provides critical thinking skills. These skills are well used throughout your entire life. In elementary school we are generally taught by reading, remembering and repeating. Not many kids question, “Why?” and the ones that do usually get branded as troublemakers. In college, they WANT you to ask why (to a point) and teach you to do the research to form your own opinion or understanding and not just ingest the information being fed to you.
EMS Provider Benefit: Critical thinking can help you understand the why behind treatment protocols and disease processes, how to best treat the patient and maybe even why your boss just doesn’t make any sense.
Higher education improves your writing skills. At some point, especially since the advent of the internet, we will all be expected to correspond in the written word. Even an associate’s degree will provide the benefit of learning to write adequately if not well and how to perform research and present it professionally. Yes, people do judge you for text speak/ misspelling/ bad punctuation and construction. No, they don’t care that you don’t like it.
EMS Provider Benefit: Improved documentation skills beyond, “ Patient looked bad. Took them to hospital.”
Higher education improves your speaking skills. At this point you are probably thinking, “Speaking!?! I got this!” This aspect is related to being well written and having critical thinking skills. Once you can form cohesive thoughts, they usually come out of your mouth well. However, being well spoken is even more than just spouting good ideas. Basic public speaking is part of most curriculum now and helps you appear more poised and prepared even when giving a personal speech (like at a wedding or party) even though you are shaking in your boots.
EMS Provider Benefit: Improves your ability to think on your feet while speaking with angry drunks and crazy family members. Speaking well improves your credibility and level of respect with other providers instead of using slang and jargon.
Higher education provides exposure to new ideas and people. So many people put off going to school because, “I don’t know what I want to do.” Even going to school one class at a time not only starts the road to your completed degree, but can give you ideas on professional avenues or simply new interests you would like to pursue. People of all ages, nationalities, and stages of life attend college giving you access to their views and experiences.
EMS Provider Benefit: You gain a broader experience in your education enabling you to appreciate the vast differences between our patients and their cultures.
Higher education improves your self-confidence and maturity.Completing each class and interacting with other students and professors increases self-confidence and maturity of the student. Doing well and succeeding at school makes students feel accomplished and encourages them to move on and continue doing well both academically and professionally. Maturity is nurtured during the education process through team work and expectations from professors and fellow students. Self-confidence can help students reach for opportunities they never would have imagined being able to obtain prior to academic success.
EMS Provider Benefit: Occasionally there is a heavy gravity to situations providers must perform within. Even if the provider is not exactly sure what the best response is in a non-traditional situation, the maturity and confidence gained in college can assist in the “fake it til you make it” situation and make it seem like it’s what happens all the time.
Even completing some college credits can make you more marketable to ANY potential employer or supervisor. Let’s be real. No one wants to be “the fry guy” for life and even management at well-known establishments such as McDonald’s require some sort of post high school education or training. Even some college credits and evidence of current pursuit of a degree can help land a better position.
EMS Provider Benefit: Marketability can increase your value to get hired or promoted by your current employer opening new opportunities in the administration, education, or planning section of your department.
Eddie Murphy in Coming To America
Obviously, this list is not all inclusive. However in addition to the non-material benefits above, higher education can increase your net worth. Per the Census Bureau a high school graduate earns about $1,371,000 over a lifetime while a college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree earns about $2,422,000. A million dollars more over a lifetime makes the monetary and time investment more than worth spending.
Show me the money!
If finances are an issue and loans are out of the question there are LOTS of scholarships out there if you dig for them. They are the only reason I can afford to go to school and eat at the present time. Check out your local IAFF, FMBA, PBA, FOP, VFW, EMS or OEM unions or support agencies for their scholarships. Most 2 year colleges have county or state wide academic scholarships or endowments and that information is usually available at student accounts or the financial aid office. If you do well and have good grades, PHI THETA KAPPA is a 2 year college academic fraternity that has access to international internships and opportunities and most importantly scholarships for when you want to transfer to a 4 year institution.
Whether you think higher education has a place in EMS or not, educating yourself will improve your life exponentially ($1 MILLION DOLLARS!). It will improve your family’s lives, your organizations and you might inspire your friends or brothers and sisters.