An academic approach to EMS recruitment and retention

A partnership between an EMS agency and a University co-op program allows students to complete an accelerated, state-accredited EMT training program in approximately 3 weeks


By Tyler N. Richards, NRAEMT; and Danielle M. Thomas

Recruitment and retention of dedicated and passionate team members is a persistent challenge in the emergency medical service industry.

Fallon Ambulance Service (FAS), a subsidy of Transformative Healthcare, a privately operated company based in the greater Boston area, has implemented a new approach to improve recruitment of prospective employees and increase retention rates of new hires.

Conveniently located outside of a city booming with college students interested in healthcare, FAS is capitalizing on this demographic by providing free EMT school and providing pathways for promising undergraduate students who aspire to be future leaders in healthcare.

The emergency medical services industry is uniquely positioned to offer prospective team members opportunities that are coveted by motivated students who hope to gain an upper hand in either graduate school admissions for advanced clinical careers or leadership positions within health admiration.

FAS has acknowledged this unmet desire, in hopes of meeting our growing staffing needs while also playing a role in shaping the future leaders of healthcare. Patient contact hours, certifications, networking workshops, facilitated experienceable learning, and shadowing opportunities are all examples of how we invest resources into developing young talent that will develop into industry professionals or move on to become powerful community allies as they assume leadership positions in alternate health and public safety disciplines.

EMT training beyond 911 emergencies

An example of how FAS executes this strategy is our partnership with Northeastern University through the cooperative education component of the university’s curriculum. FAS offers a co-op experience to Northeastern students, during which they work as full-time FAS employees for six months. The organization selects a handful of applicants who must meet rigorous academic, social and philanthropic qualifications. As part of the co-op agreement, FAS pays the costs associated with training the students.

The students complete an accelerated, state-accredited emergency medical technician training program in approximately three weeks. Throughout their tenure, students work as emergency medical technicians, participate in a weekly leadership workshop series, receive additional certifications, and are given opportunities to shadow paramedics and partners from various in-hospital disciplines.

The experience provides learning beyond 911 emergencies and expands students’ knowledge with behavioral health, rehab and medical-surgical patients. Northeastern University co-op EMTs gain their initial certification, receive competitive wages and gain clinical experience. They are earning experience while caring for patients in the greater Boston area and working with some of the finest medical institutions in the world.

“I’ve never had more fun while working so hard for something. It’s not like your usual college class – it’s real world skills that are going to help you take care of real patients and make a genuine impact on their wellbeing. I’m very grateful for the experience and for the skills I’ve gained, for passionate instructors who love teaching and sharing their stories with us, and for the friends I’ve made among my classmates in just the first month.” — Ava Grounds, Northeastern Behavioral Neuroscience ’21

This program is a win-win for the organization and the students. We’re able to offer students tangible opportunities that enhance their competitiveness over peers by strategically lining their resumes with certifications and experiential learning. Organizationally, return on investment has far exceeded expectations. Productivity is up and so is staffing – numbers don’t lie.

Read next: Why early exposure to EMS is key to driving interest, improving recruitment

About the authors

Tyler N. Richards is a manager of Special Projects and Programs at Transformative Healthcare. His work is primarily focused strategy, management, training and education. In addition to spearheading Transformative Healthcare’s Northeastern program, he has incubated and launched a new field training officer program and a modernized orientation program, and is a key player within performance improvement. A graduate of Curry College, he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health.

Danielle M. Thomas is Vice President of System Integration for Transformative Healthcare. An ambulance industry veteran since 2007 and a paramedic for over 10 years, in her current role she leads teams in the areas of education and training, performance improvement, quality assurance and project innovations.

As a Massachusetts Region 4 Educator of the Year award winner, Thomas is credentialed as an instructor and coordinator in more than 10 internationally recognized certification courses and has led more than 10 international teams in clinical care and training in countries including Ghana and Haiti. She is a graduate of the Resuscitation Academy and currently a Massachusetts affiliate faculty member for the National Association of EMTs’ Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS) course. Thomas has served as the educational program’s administrator and the director of the largest EMS training center in Massachusetts. She co-chaired a committee that published a white paper on the use of new diagnostic technology in EMS, as well as several collaborations for publication with Zoll Medical. 

As a Tactical EMS expert, and one of the first civilian graduates of the Tactical Medical Operators Course (TMOC) through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Thomas has consulted for local and federal law enforcement agencies for rescue task force implementation.  

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