What you need to know about transition from EMS to nursing

For EMTs and paramedics interested in nursing education and work, here are four things to know about bridge and degree programs


By Jeff Solheim

As an emergency nurse, my appreciation of my prehospital colleagues runs deep. I recognize the incredible challenges that providing care in austere environments creates. I also recognize that working in a patient's home, on the streets and the back of an ambulance creates a lack of resources and structure that can make my job in the emergency department seem easy.

Despite the differences between nursing and prehospital providers, the similarities between our work explains why there is frequently a crossover between the two professions. Many nurses accept jobs in the prehospital environment. EMTs and paramedics regularly seek education to become registered nurses. Although my degree is in nursing, some of my fondest memories are working as the director of an ambulance service early in my career and my hours serving with paramedics as a flight nurse throughout my career.

As I look back at the colleagues I have worked with in the hospital setting over the years, many of them started in the prehospital field and ultimately chose a career in nursing. The experience and organizational skills they brought with them into nursing served as an asset to not only them, but to me as their co-worker and to the patients they cared for. 

If you are considering nursing as your next education and career move, here are four things you need to know.

1. Making the transition from EMS to nursing
The transition between being a prehospital provider and a registered nurse can be relatively painless with numerous educational options currently available. Obviously, the path between the two careers will depend heavily on the amount of education that the prehospital provider brings with them. An EMT will have a very different path than a paramedic and even paramedic programs have very different educational requirements that may affect the amount of credits that are accepted in a nursing program.

2. Research online programs carefully
When making the decision to transition from the prehospital environment to nursing, it is recommended that significant research be undertaken. The path of least educational resistance may not result in meeting desired career goals. There are several online educational programs that allow paramedics to bridge quickly to a diploma in nursing. But individuals who utilize these programs may be surprised to find that not all health care facilities will recognize these degrees and even if they do, the potential for career advancement may be hampered.

3. Make sure bridge programs are accredited
There are, however, bridging programs that are widely recognized which give prehospital personnel credit for education already completed, allowing a shortened educational track to nursing. Research to make sure that the program is appropriately accredited and leads to a degree broadly accepted by all hospitals should be undertaken before applying. 

4. Nursing degree programs
Generally, the easiest way to transition between prehospital and nursing is to obtain a diploma or an associate degree in nursing. This can sometimes be accomplished in one year depending on the program.

While this is not a bad transition plan, I would strongly encourage the EMT or paramedic to carefully examine their long-term career goals. In today’s nursing professional environment, a diploma or an associate degree in nursing can be very career limiting. Many hospitals are no longer hiring nurses who do not have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. A bachelor’s degrees in nursing is almost universally required for upward career mobility into jobs such as administration, education, prehospital nursing and other paths that deviate from a traditional bedside clinical nurse.

I don't want to entice my prehospital colleagues from their current roles, we as nurses have a deep respect and appreciation for all you do to work collaboratively with us. But if nursing is in your future, we will welcome you as you embrace a new challenge in your life.

About the author
Jeff Solheim, MSN, RN, CEN, CFRN, TCRN, FAEN, is founder and executive director of Project Helping Hands and president of Solheim Enterprises. Solheim is well known in the emergency nursing field having worked in nearly every facet of emergency nursing including staff nurse, charge nurse, manager, director, trauma coordinator, flight nurse, educator, state surveyor, and prehospital nurse. He has also authored more than 20 different books, including Emergency Nursing: The Profession, the Pathway, the Practice, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, which is available from Nursing Knowledge and Amazon.

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