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Home > Topics > EMS Advocacy
June 21, 2012
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Does 'seat time' equal competency?

Our concept of entry-level competency needs to be much more complex than it is now

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: A recent study says becoming a barber takes longer — and is therefore more difficult — than becoming an EMT in Mass.

This article brings up a few interesting points about the number of hours required to train for a profession:

1. Has anyone discovered a hard link between hours of training and competency?

The article points out that becoming a barber in Mass. takes way longer than becoming an EMT, but it speaks more to the regulatory structure rather than the educational model that puts it into place. Is it job protectionism for people who work in the profession?

Without any real idea of how much knowledge a barber (or EMT) should have to be baseline "competent," the arguments for and against a set number of hours are really moot points.

2. Is 110 hours adequate for an initial EMT training course?

Current national EMS education standards call for nearly 160 hours of training. Do "seat time" and class duration equal a "better" course? My bias says that it does — to a certain point.

I believe that an EMT must have a basic foundation of human anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology to address the "why" questions that arise during a call and to make rational decisions (i.e., perform critical thinking) about the patient's care.

Are those hours best spread across a 17-week college semester or a three-week boot camp? I think that's more dependent on a student's ability to absorb and retain information and the instructor's ability to teach.

3. Just what is "competency"?

Many of us have the measurement of a national examination process to deem so-called "entry-level" competency in knowledge and skills. But how does that translate into real-world practice?

How many of our students are functioning independently on the first shift? I'd imagine that most begin their careers under the eye of a seasoned partner or formally prepared Field Training Officer. But I'll bet that doesn't happen all the time.

Either that must change, or our concept of entry-level competency needs to be much more complex than it is now.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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