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Why EMS must seek out diversity

We have to be proactive in researching root causes of internal stereotypes, and work to change any biases seen in departments

Allow me to throw a few numbers at you today:

51 - 63 - 13 - 14 - 4

While you could play these numbers for your next attempt to win the lottery, there’s meaning behind them. In order, they represent a quick snapshot of the gender and ethnic breakdown of our country’s population, based upon the U.S. Census data: 51 percent female; 63 percent white, of nonhispanic background; 13 percent black; 14 percent Latino; 4 percent Asian.

Let’s compare that with the best known set of similar data for EMS providers.

29 - 81 - 8 - 9 - 1

A quick comparison reveals that our staffing doesn’t line up with the general population. Frankly, in my travels across the country the numbers are even more skewed in favor of a young, white, male dominated industry.

There’s also another number.

According to the National Health Statistics Reports, about 1.8 percent of males identify as being gay. That number may be higher, as many in the study chose not to disclose their sexual identity. In other words, it’s you can expect that in most mid-to-large departments, at least a few staff will be homosexual.

I have no idea how many of the allegations are true in this story about a medic who filed a discrimination lawsuit saying he was fired for being gay. I also don’t know the perception or misinterpretation by parties on both sides of this lawsuit. Yet as best as I can tell, being gay, black, brown or female has no bearing on the ability to perform the work.

To let internal biases and stereotypes color the ability for someone to be a productive worker is insensitive and self-serving. It’s difficult to imagine how EMS can approach culturally ingrained scene dynamics in a sensitive way, when the majority of us don’t come from that background. The lack of inherent understanding and perspective can produce unnecessary tension and misunderstanding, and a misinterpretation of what is said and done by both patient and provider.

Moreover, it creates a greater sense of mistrust between the community and its government-provided services, which was demonstrated recently in Ferguson, Mo. Not actively recruiting EMS providers from the community means not tapping into a potent workforce that is capable of providing excellent care.

Here’s the real issue: We actively resist making these changes.

Most of this is unconscious. We blame the school system, the cultural barriers, and the nature of the work as reasons why females and minorities are not attracted to the profession.

What we fail to grasp is the dynamic that the “other side” sees – a white, male, middle class dominated workforce that has little interest in understanding the cultural subtext that surrounds medical, psychological and social issues that are present at any EMS scene.

We have to be proactive in researching root causes for the barriers that exist to protect the status quo, and engage in ways to tie the local community to its safety services. Our nation will continue to diversify even more rapidly than it has before. EMS must be reflective of that change, for its own good.

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor 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 writer, author of “EMT Exam for Dummies,” has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.