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

Early career exposure can make or break future career choices; here's how one agency is fostering school-age children's interest in an emergency services career


The decision to become an EMT or paramedic is different for everyone. For some, a life event has led them to choose this career path. For others, it's a childhood dream job come true. And, naturally, there's a lot of gray area in between.

But, what happens when school-age children are offered a glimpse into the unique world of emergency services? An event held by LifeSave, a Kansas-based medical transport system, has aimed to do just that.

Influencing an EMS career path

What happens when school-age children are offered a glimpse into the unique world of emergency services? An event held by LifeSave, a Kansas-based medical transport system, has aimed to do just that. (Photo/LifeSave)
What happens when school-age children are offered a glimpse into the unique world of emergency services? An event held by LifeSave, a Kansas-based medical transport system, has aimed to do just that. (Photo/LifeSave)

Ashley Lawless, marketing and membership manager for LifeSave, noted their aviation training and operations manager, Greg Monty, who also volunteers as a Big Brother, pitched the idea to host a career day for the Kansas Big Brothers, Big Sisters program.

"He thought it would be a neat opportunity for not only LifeSave to be able to show the kids what we do and all the different careers that are available in a company like ours, but for him it was a chance to have both sides of his world combine in one place," she said.

The event, a first for LifeSave, was well received by the "Littles" and "Bigs" in attendance. 

"One thing that surprised a lot of the kids is that we have administrative people in our company; we have flight nurses; we have ground paramedics; we have communicators, educators and pilots. There are a lot of different opportunities," Lawless said.

Jodi Cregger, flight nurse, paramedic and education director for LifeSave, said she believes career days can positively impact and foster children's interest in an emergency services career. "I think it's good to get that early exposure embedded in them and keep that fire going. So when they do get to that point, they already know the path to take," she said.

As education director, Cregger helps set up training classes for local EMS providers and hospitals around the area. Before she begins a class, she always asks attendees why they made their career decision.

"I'm amazed when people say they've always wanted to be a paramedic or nurse since they were a little kid," she said. "Or that they knew that's what they always wanted to do so they just kept striving to do that and took classes that would be beneficial along the way."

The event may have started out as a learning opportunity for local youth facing adversity, but it's a prime example of how early outreach can affect future public safety career decisions.

"Grade school and middle school age is a good time to start letting kids know that, 'Hey, this is an option and this is what we do,'" Lawless said.

(Photo/LifeSave)
(Photo/LifeSave)

Students with EMT training step up

Although the event was the first time LifeSave has hosted their own career day, the staff make a point to be regularly involved in the communities they serve.

For instance, personnel recently visited Ness City High School, which offers an EMS class to students interested in becoming an EMT. "We went to visit them and the message was, 'If you're interested in the EMS world, then this is a direction you can take it in,'" Lawless said. "They thought it was neat, because they're still starting out and learning – even at the high school level."

The training the high school students are receiving is not going unnoticed. After a Dec. 2018 crash involving a Ness City school district bus, which was on its way home from an away basketball game, students from the EMS class were credited for helping fellow students stay calm.

Ness City superintendent Derek Reinhardt told KWCH12 that two EMS students were on call when the crash occurred, rode the ambulance to the scene and jumped into action. A couple of other students from the class, he said, were in different vehicles behind the bus and ran up to help.

"I had to stop myself from saying, 'What are you doing?' and I had to realize that these kids know more about emergency response than I do," Reinhardt told the local news channel. "And they took control and did a great job."

A total of 20 students and two adults were injured in the crash, but none of their injuries were considered life-threatening. Without the school's EMS class, help would not have arrived so quickly. In this case, the students' knowledge and quick action contributed to the overall outcome of the crash – everyone walked away safely.

Offering EMS classes at the high school level is not a new idea, but it's becoming more commonplace as a recruitment tool. Students are able to receive hands-on experience and, as a result, they're given an opportunity to later serve their local communities as EMTs or paramedics.

Austin-Travis County EMS, which serves over 1,300 square miles in the Austin, Texas, area, has a similar class in place to spark early interest in an EMS career.

EMS recruitment through community outreach

Established in Oct. 2010, the Austin-Travis County EMS Explorer Post 247 program caters to youths aged 14-21 years old. The program gives students a chance to learn more about a career in EMS by providing classes as well as ambulance ride-alongs.

It's also an opportunity for students to network with EMS providers in the area, who make a positive impact by encouraging community service.

Along with the program, Austin-Travis County EMS also holds "Community Helper Days," where they send on-duty crews to visit preschools, elementary and middle schools. During their demonstration, EMS providers talk about the role of a paramedic and offer an ambulance show and tell – explaining the equipment on board and how it works.

Additionally, crews also visit local area high schools to talk about the career path to becoming an EMT and what it's like to work in an emergency medicine environment.

This early outreach and exposure to the world of EMS may seem routine for the EMS providers who are presenting, but it could be the difference between a student choosing one career path over another.

And much like Austin-Travis County EMS' school visits and career days, Lawless said many LifeSave outreach events begin with a student expressing interest in a simple idea. "A lot of kids start out by saying they want to be a pilot; they think the aircraft is pretty cool."

Once that interest is voiced, LifeSave will set up a private meet and greet to further grow their interest and curiosity.

"We're trying to get kids more engaged with these types of career paths, which is why events like these are more important than ever," Lawless said.

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