Gaming a career path: A foundation for paramedic growth

Gaston County EMS leadership has developed career pathways to increased responsibilities, and compensation to match


This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2019, issue of the Paramedic Chief Leadership Briefing, Paramedic career mapping | MIH value | Affordable community paramedicine. Read the full briefing and add the Paramedic Chief eNewsletter to your subscriptions

By James H. McConnell, NRP, BS

As EMS agencies across the nation struggle with a shortage of qualified professionals, the race is on to find creative ways to recruit and retain employees in this mission-critical occupation.

In addition to the pay inequities for EMS when compared to other healthcare occupations, the lack of a clear career path and the limited opportunities for professional growth are likely major barriers to increasing the pool of paramedic prospects.

James H. McConnell, NRP, BS, is deputy chief, Gaston County EMS, Gastonia, North Carolina.
James H. McConnell, NRP, BS, is deputy chief, Gaston County EMS, Gastonia, North Carolina.

One way to alleviate these challenges is to develop and implement career pathing for EMS employees. This helps to provide options for paramedics based on their personal interests and skillset. Additionally, a clearly-defined path helps to balance support for professional advancement with clear expectations of what is necessary to earn varying levels of recognition, responsibilities and compensation.

Options for paramedic skills acquisition

Gastonia, North Carolina’s Gaston County EMS (GEMS) has been working for several years to increase opportunities for the agency’s 129 full-time EMS providers. During the 2020 budget process, GEMS leadership submitted and was approved to move forward with a career pathing plan for our paramedics.

As a primarily ALS service, the initial plan is to focus on the development of GEMS paramedic personnel within the agency, though there are also plans for EMT personnel in process.

The GEMS Paramedic Career Path provides multiple options for employees based on their interests and accomplishments. Employees benefit from new skill acquisition, compensation for additional responsibilities, and clearly defined options and expectations for professional growth.  

Steps to succession planning

GEMS leadership has laid out the career path in a game board format so that personnel can easily mark off their accomplishments and determine what steps they should take to reach their desired career goal within the organization. Click here to view the GEMS Paramedic Career Path.

Opportunities are grouped initially by education and years of service. For those who attain additional degrees or those who support others as a Mentor or Preceptor, they earn additional steps in the path. Formalized leadership responsibilities such as Paramedic Crew Chief or Field Training Officer are additional, compensated steps in the pathway as well. The final grouping focuses on individualized categories to earn the rank designation of Master Paramedic.

Available Master Paramedic pathways include Critical Care, Community Paramedic, Tactical Paramedic and Rescue Technician. Progression through the various steps is supported additionally by GEMS in the forms of education leave, on-site classes, paid professional development each month, and bi-annual paramedic refresher training. 

In addition to expanding opportunities for personal career development, we anticipate the career path will help with ever-critical succession planning within the organization.  

This plan has been well-received by the GEMS paramedics. Chief Mark Lamphiear hopes that this will be a solid foundation for growth for GEMS paramedics and serve as a way to recognize and compensate employees for such growth.

“At the core of our profession, we are servants to the public. That level of service comes with tremendous sacrifice by our employees and a critical, specialized skillset. I’m proud of the work that our EMS clinicians do every day and this is just one way that we hope to support them in their career development and say thank you for their service to Gaston County,” Lamphiear noted.

About the author

James H. McConnell, NRP, BS, is deputy chief, Gaston County EMS, Gastonia, North Carolina.

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