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Increasing your career options with more education

Due to on-the-job injury, family demands or burnout, many EMS professionals eventually need to find work outside of EMS

An associates degree gives paramedics more options in EMS or in a career outside of EMS.

This article, originally published June 14, 2012, has been updated with current information

A December 2018 joint position statement from NAEMSE, NAEMSMA and IAFCCP calling for an associate degree to be a requirement for paramedics has reignited a longstanding and important conversation about the topic.

The organizations believe the time has come for paramedics to “be trained through a formal education process that culminates with an associate degree.”

IAFC had already adopted an opposing position in August 2018 and reaffirmed its position in a Dec. 28, 2018, joint position statement with IAFF, NFPA and NVFC.

The pros and cons of a degree requirement have been vigorously discussed on the Medic Mindset and Inside EMS podcast; in this column by Kelly Grayson, EMS1 advisory board member; and within numerous Facebook and Twitter threads.

The NAEMT dipped a toe into the conversation with a Jan. 18, 2019, statement on “Enhanced Educational Requirements for EMS.”

Does a degree matter?

The relationship between unemployment and educational attainment has been a regularly discussed and covered topic by EMS1 writers and readers – with good reason. Across all labor sectors, unemployment levels are lower for job seekers with college diplomas. Median weekly earnings are also higher.

In his March, 2012, EMS1 column, Dr. David Ross shared his opinions about the value of a college degree for paramedics, especially in advancing their EMS careers.

While I share some of Dr. Ross’s misgivings about the worthiness of a degree, it increases options for a career outside of or after EMS.

A degree gives you options

The reality is that due to on-the-job injury, family demands or burnout, many EMS professionals eventually need to find work outside of EMS.

There are simply fewer and fewer opportunities for workers who lack specialized vocational training, an associate’s degree or a four-year college degree.

The jobs and careers of today and in the future require skills, knowledge and initiative beyond what was obtained in high school or in the back of the ambulance.

BLS 2017 Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment

There is probably never a “good” time to go back to school or get started with more education, so you simply need to begin. Here’s how:

  1. Research other fields. EMS professionals visit a variety of workplaces to pick up patients. Is there a business sector that draws your interest? Find out more about the work in those industries. Visit employers’ career websites to learn about the minimum qualifications and skills for job applicants.
  2. Identify general education requirements. Explore the foundation of any degree program by talking to an admissions officer at your local community college or public four-year college. You will almost certainly need coursework in math, communication and science. You might even be eligible for college credits because of your EMS work experience.
  3. Save money for tuition and books. As Dr. Ross said, the costs of college are rapidly rising and being burdened with debt could hamper your options for decades to come. Start saving and looking for scholarship opportunities, and aim to avoid loans to finance a college degree. I am regularly reminded by administrators of scholarship programs that they’d like to receive more applications.
  4. Start with a single general education requirement. Take a course that could apply to any degree path. Use that course to develop studying and time-management habits that will help you complete other courses in the years to come. Consider using a massive open online course, a MOOC, like Coursera or EdX to complete a course in a field that interest you.

As the leadership of the EMS profession continues to transition from physicians and nurses to paramedics with undergraduate and graduate degrees, more EMS career pathways will evolve.

How will you use a college education to prepare yourself for a long career in EMS or one outside of EMS?

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.