Want to know the pay expectations of paramedics? Start by asking!

An EMS agency, facing an applicant shortage, surveyed EMS providers to see if employee-employer compensation expectations matched


By Nathan Harig

Like many areas nationwide, my region of south central Pennsylvania is experiencing a shortage of EMTs and paramedics. One of our most popular paramedic education programs graduated only 10 paramedics at the end of last year for a region served by about 40 ALS agencies, most with current employment vacancies.

Many agencies are competing to see who can offer the most attractive sign-on bonuses or compensation package to woo prospective employees. The agency I work for, Cumberland Goodwill EMS in Carlisle, Pa., has felt this pinch too and decided to put our own twist on our recruiting efforts.

Earlier this year, we exhibited at EMS Today in Baltimore to do some nationwide recruiting, but it wasn’t just about selling our company to prospective employees. We wanted to assess some quick vital signs on the industry to see how we can attract top candidates.

While we know what salary surveys say average pay is, we weren’t certain the expectations of providers were close to the real compensation provided. To study this, we ran a nonscientific survey at our booth that assessed basic demographics, current benefits, important factors in choosing an EMS employer and happiness with their current organization.

To encourage responses, we held a daily drone giveaway. We had 99 unique responses to our online survey. Our median age for EMTs was 27, while the median for paramedics was 38. Respondents came from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or New York, producing a regional bias that, while it serves our interests when recruiting, may mean these stats are not applicable nationally.

What is a reasonable hourly pay rate (not including benefits) to pay someone with your certification?
In an effort to ensure that the data wasn’t skewed one way by a large or small value, we opted to use the statistical median in our assessment and omitted volunteer or $0.00 responses for this question.

EMT respondents suggested $15/hour was reasonable, while paramedics assessed $25/hour to be reasonable. This was right around our expectations, especially in light of trends nationwide pushing for a $15/hour minimum wage for EMS workers.

What fringe benefits are offered at your current EMS organization?
We were particularly concerned with the fringe benefits offered to providers. At Cumberland Goodwill EMS, our full-time employees enjoy things like paid health care with no payroll deduction for the employee and their families, accrual-based paid time off per pay and 401k with employer matching. Still, we weren’t certain how this stacks up against the rest of the industry. Overall we found our benefit package to be very competitive to those received by respondents.

Which factors are important when choosing an EMS organization?
We were also very interested in knowing what was important to a prospective employee. While we hypothesized pay and benefits would be the most important factors, we were surprised to see just how low the desire to be at a 911-only service was. In fact, many respondents believed being close to where they grew up was important when picking a squad; something that poses a challenge with our nationwide recruitment effort. While this poses a setback for our nationwide recruitment, we believe that we can overcome it by focusing on other important factors.

Are you considering switching EMS services or employers?
When asked If they were considering switching EMS services, only 12.1 percent indicated they were actively searching. Thirty-one percent indicated that they were willing to switch if the right offer came along. A solid 56.6 percent indicated that they were happy at their current service.

How important is cost of living?
While it wasn’t a question on our online survey, in one-on-one interviews with prospective candidates the cost of living was one of the biggest selling points for our area. A three-bedroom home in our area can be rented for around $700/month, with many homes selling for around $150,000.

The salary needs of EMS providers greatly changes when factoring in living costs and deductions from their payroll. One of the ideas we’ve considered has been rent or housing assistance, partnering with realtors to find housing and covering the first month's rent to help a new employee settle in the area. The data suggests this would be a completely unique benefit and may help bring in providers from outside our region.

As we move through the recruiting process and our own ongoing evaluation of benefits, we’ll use the data we collected in Baltimore to make decisions that net our agency top talent. EMS agencies nationwide should be do similar evaluations. As educational standards and call volume continue to rise, total compensation at your agency may need to change as well. While it’s great to be able to recruit hometown responders, enticing new talent outside of their comfort zone may be necessary, especially in the case of the shortage facing south central Pennsylvania. This data was a good starting point, but our work at Cumberland Goodwill EMS has only just begun.  

About the author
Nathan Harig is the Assistant Chief of Administration at Cumberland Goodwill EMS in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he oversees technology, data and quality management, outreach, and public relations for the department. A paramedic, Nathan also holds a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and a Masters of Arts in TransAtlantic Studies from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.

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