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EMS careers – Making the decision to stay or move on

Higher education, mentoring and when to move on: The NAEMT Board tackles EMS career development


The EMS World Expo hosted a panel discussion with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians Board of Directors to spark conversation about how to make tough career decisions.

Courtesy photo

NEW ORLEANS — Establishing a career in emergency medical services can be both rewarding and challenging.

The EMS World Expo hosted a panel discussion with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians Board of Directors to spark conversation about how to make tough career decisions. Each board member reflected on their careers in public safety and lessons learned which led them to becoming the leaders they are today.

The panel included:

  • Sean J. Britton, MPA, NRP, director, Region I (2018-2019); chair, EMS Workforce Committee

  • Christopher E. Way, BA, director, Region III (2018-2019); paramedic; chair, Membership Committee; EMS PAC committee member

  • Susan Bailey, MSEM, NRP, NCEE, director, Region II (2019-2020); Advocacy Committee member, Education Committee member

  • Bruce Evans, MPA, NRP, CFO, SPO, President-elect (2019-2020); Advocacy Committee member; Finance Committee member; Leadership Development Committee member; Chair, EMS Political Action Committee

  • Dennis W. Rowe, EMT-P; Immediate Past President (2019-2020); chair, Leadership Development Committee

Memorable quotes on making the decision to stay or move on

Here are some memorable quotes from the panel.

  • “Show up. You’ve made the first step in showing up at a conference like this.” — Bruce Evans

  • “Don’t let other people tare you down or misdirect you. You decide on where you want to go.” — Dennis Rowe

  • “Find your path and do what works for you.” — Sean Britton

  • “Set your goals and find ways to meet those goals.” — Susan Bailey

  • “EMS has to be something you want to do, not have to do.” — Christopher Way

Top takeaways on EMS career decision making

Here are four top takeaways shared by the board members during the panel discussion.

  1. Set goals. “Set your goals and find ways to meet those goals through mentorship, education and experiences,” said Bailey. Recognizing where you are right now and where you would like to be in the future will help in establishing goals.

  2. Find a mentor. Every prehospital provider has a unique story of why they chose to serve and how they were able to navigate through their journey. “Mentors are the most influential people in your career and self-development. If you find yourself in a situation of indecision seek out a mentor and talk through it,” said Rowe. Seeking advice from a mentor may provide insights to similar difficulties and actions taken to arrive at a decision to help you succeed in meeting your goals.

  3. Contribute. Contributing to the advancement of emergency medical services is key to shaping its future. “It should be part of your professional development and your longevity in this profession to join a professional organization, and get involved in a committee, apply for a board spot. We should be cycling people all the time to bring in new ideas,” said Evans. “The reality is you have to be a member of the organization to effect the change you want to see,” added Rowe.

  4. Seek more knowledge. Careers within emergency medical services continue to evolve into new practices generated by patient needs, evidence-based medicine, and technological advancement.

“Be open to changing positions,” advised Way. Now, more than ever, providers have the opportunity to broaden their skill set and interventions to include new diagnostic tools that are extended from the hospital into the prehospital setting. Early hospital notification systems in STEMI/stroke care, prehospital point of care ultrasound, whole blood use in trauma, telehealth, and mobile stroke units are just a few examples of recent advancements.

At some point in a career, you may find yourself at a crossroads in deciding to stay or move on. This decision can be a daunting task with a huge impact on your life. Before you leave, consider other avenues to move around within emergency medical services. For example, here is a short list of other possibilities to explore:

  • Educational instructor (e.g., BLS CPR, PALS, ACLS, high school, college, etc.)

  • Mobile integrated health - community paramedicine

  • Public affairs officer

  • State EMS office position

  • Community EMS ambassador

  • Researcher

  • Information technology

  • Critical care paramedic

  • Flight paramedic

  • Specialized team paramedic (e.g., tactical, hazardous materials, bicycle, dive team, swift water rescue, wilderness, low/high-angle teams, etc.)

  • Emergency department technician

  • Urgent care technician

  • Special events medic

  • Movie set medic

  • First responder at a zoo or aquarium first responder

  • Humanitarian aid medic

  • Disaster preparedness EMS liaison officer or designated regional coordinator

Prehospital providers spend a lot of time and effort on obtaining specific skill sets needed to perform high-quality patient care. “It’s not all roses and sunshine. If you wake up and don’t want to do this anymore, do something else,” Way advised.

Q&A: NAEMT Board of Directors answers leadership questions

The floor was open to questions from attendees following introductions and advice from the panel.

Q: How do you stimulate other generations including younger generations in the workforce?

According to the National Registration of Emergency Medical Technicians 2018 Annual Report, the current EMS workforce is comprised of at least five generations: Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. Managing a workforce with different values and belief systems can be challenging.

“You have to ask your people how they want to be communicated with. You have to ask them what excites them to be involved. It depends on what kind of agency you have. The things that motivate people in a career fire department are much different than a people on a volunteer rescue squad somewhere. There’s no secret ingredient or special recipe to match that Generation Y or Generation Z. Part of it is engaging your workforce specific to you in your area, locale, in your system, so you can figure out a way that works best for them.” — Christopher Way

“What our research is telling us in our region is the biggest deal with them is to build loyalty. If they don’t feel their managers or leaders aren’t loyal to them, they will move on quickly. I find too that I lose people quickly if they are not being challenged. Having someone fail and do it over again is OK with this generation [Z], whereas the generations before, it was sacrilege. So, this generation is not like that. They have to be challenged. They have to have a good mentor with them and you have to find new challenges for them to do. This next generation wants to be pushed.” — Bruce Evans

“You have to figure out what will work for your groups. One size will not fit all. I would suggest buying breakfast and go out sit down with them. Help them feel comfortable and secure to find out what their issues are and what’s going on. Encourage frontline supervisor to support it. You can’t throw money at it. Some focus groups were able to identify money is OK, but it’s benefits and feeling of respect that matter more. Building a respectful relationship with them, and then they are more likely to talk to you.” — Dennis Rowe

Do you have any suggestions for women as they move on to leadership roles within EMS? Do you feel like you have to work harder?

“I didn’t feel like I had to work harder but I had to work as much. I feel like there certain areas where I had to earn respect but I think that now that the role of women has expanded we have earned that spot. I didn’t ask for any special exceptions either. I think we have to do what is expected of the job. I think the rewards will come.” — Susan Bailey

“You gotta find a mentor. There are plenty of female mentors and leaders that in this profession now. Hook up with one of them to help ya work through that. — Christopher Way

“Help them. Help them understand why you were successful. If you have been successful share that. How did you find that path? What you went through. That’s a one-on-one conversation on establishing goals and meeting expectations.” — Dennis Rowe

Concerning the initiative to improve formal education amongst EMS providers, which programs of study with graduate and undergraduate have you all found to be most applicable to our industry?

Some level of education beyond EMT and paramedic is important. It makes you a more well-rounded person. I went back to school and get a degree in business and you know what, every budget season, that’s pretty dang handy. You have to figure out what you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about being a paramedic, I don’t want to lose you, but I also encourage you to go do what your passionate about and get your education in that. There is nothing wrong with getting more education. Don’t get a degree just to get a degree.” — Christopher Way

“For me personally, when I was considering graduate schools, I did my undergraduate degree in emergency management, and I felt that I had done something closely tied to EMS, so I wanted to do something a little more global. I was very much back and forth between the master of public administration [MPA] and master of public health [MPH]. My thinking was that I would likely remain for all of my career in healthcare, probably government or non-profit. What really led me towards an MPA over the MPH is I thought the administrative competencies of budgets, regulations and policy making would be more beneficial than a deeper dive on infectious or communicable diseases, which tends to be heavier within a MPH. I was fortunate enough to split the difference, because all of my elective study (within the MPA) was MPH coursework. I was really on the fence between EMS administration – public health – or non-EMS healthcare administration, and I thought that the MPA would be broad enough to be able to do all three. Since that time, it’s proven it has been.” — Sean J. Britton

“I would just recommend that you set your goals. Where do you want to be and look for degrees in those areas. Your paramedic skills will always be there. I wanted to be the director of EMS so my bachelor’s degree is in management. You know Louisiana has disasters, so when I looked for a graduate degree, I got my master’s in emergency management, so if my goal to be director didn’t come to fruition, I had that secondary knowledge in addition to my paramedic. Set your goals and find a way to expand your education on that.” — Susan Bailey

“My associates is in fire science, bachelor’s in education, and master’s in public administration because I looked at everything I would be doing to work my way up the chain in the fire service. If you’re going to sit down and do a degree, you should look at a credentialing program, whether it’s the chief fire officer designation or the chief medical officer designation from the Center of Public Safety Excellence, or it’s one of the NEMSMA three levels; either the supervising paramedic officer, the managing paramedic officer or the EMS fellow – chose one to shoot for. I will tell you to look for a degree that matches up with those so you’re not duplicating efforts. For example, if you’re applying for the managing paramedic program, you’ll have to have a budget item checked off for that credentialing. So it’s important to find a degree that has a public finance or budgeting class in it. It’s usually an MPA or a business degree.” — Bruce Evans

Learn more about EMS career development

Find out more information about the vision for emergency medical services outlined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration EMS Agenda 2050 and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians EMS 3.0 initiative created to help understand the future changes. Learn more with these resources:

This article was originally posted Dec. 15, 2019. It has been updated.

Nicole M. Volpi, PhD, NRP, has experience in emergency medical services, law enforcement, military/civilian disaster response and disaster management research. She currently works full-time as a paramedic, preceptor, and emergency management disaster liaison for a hospital-based emergency medical service in Marrero, Louisiana.

She serves as one of the Louisiana Department of Health Region One EMS designated regional coordinators within the southeast area, responding to various emergencies where EMS support is needed or requested on a local/state level.

She has a PhD from Capella University in Public Safety/Emergency Management and a master’s degree in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration from Loyola University in New Orleans.