Female EMS leaders stand as role models for gender equality in the industry

For International Women’s Day, EMS1 spoke with three women who were recognized by their peers as blazing a trail for others to follow


EMS graduates can climb the career ladder quickly, arriving in leadership positions with minimal life or professional experience, and even less management training. Supervision is as different from clinical medicine as auto repair is from plumbing. Even a smart, motivated individual will need additional skill sets to succeed in the new role.

In this special coverage series, learn how to equip field supervisors with the skills they need to be effective in their roles.

For more than 100 years, International Women’s Day has been a global celebration during the month of March, championing females of every background, nationality and profession to follow their passion and create space for more women.

A new report released this month by the World Economic Forum found, though still significant, the pay gap between men and women closed slightly, and attributed the shift to an increase in the number of female leaders in positions of power.

For International Women’s Day, EMS1 connected with three EMS leaders to discuss their career progression and how they’ve overcome the unique challenges female leaders face in a male-dominated field.

Left to right: Falck Northern California Director and Chief of EMS Carolina Snypes; Riggs (Calif.) Ambulance Service Executive Director Carly Alley; and Falck Alameda County EMS Capt. Julie Beach.
Left to right: Falck Northern California Director and Chief of EMS Carolina Snypes; Riggs (Calif.) Ambulance Service Executive Director Carly Alley; and Falck Alameda County EMS Capt. Julie Beach. (Courtesy photos)

Overcoming fear, imposter syndrome

Meet Carolina Snypes. While walking across her college campus in 2009, Carolina Snypes came upon a flyer advertising EMT school and the potential to make $17/hour once hired.

Now, at 31, Snypes is the director and EMS chief for Falck Northern California, taking over the position in February 2020 after working her way up the ladder.

Snypes shared the challenges faced in her rise to leadership at a young age.

“There’s been a little bit of [fear] every time I’ve moved up, a bit of wondering, ‘Am I going to be taken seriously?’” she said. “I felt it with this recent move. When you look at fire or police – there’s no 31-year-old chiefs.”

But Snypes did not let fear prevent her from rising through the ranks or making her voice heard.

“Nobody is going to come knocking on your door; you have to go knocking on people’s doors,” she said. “The worst thing anybody can say is ‘no,’ and sometimes even that no is not final.”

Looking to the future, Snypes is open to whatever opportunities come her way, particularly if she can make a positive impact on those around her.

“Where I see myself is still making decisions that hopefully impact patient care and helping the providers,” she said. “I genuinely care about the frontline workforce, so, for the future, if I am making a difference in the providers’ and patients’ quality of life, that’s really as good as it gets.”

Developing confidence, leading with conviction

Meet Carly Alley. The decision to go into emergency medicine was made after Alley participated in a ride-along with the Berkeley Fire Department, where a friend's father was a battalion chief. 

To receive her paramedic certification, Carly Alley attended WestMed College through a satellite partnership at Riggs Ambulance Service, where she is now the executive director.

“It’s kind of surreal when I come in through our front door because I remember being this very, very nervous 23-year-old, knowing that all my eggs were in this basket for paramedics school,” Alley said. “It’s very different for me to walk in now through that same door as the executive director all of these years later and be responsible for running the organization.”

Alley describes herself as a shy child, a trait she forced herself to overcome at age 12 by getting involved with theater and drama, which helped her become more comfortable talking to large groups of people, a skill she relies on daily in her current role.

“I have no problem standing up and speaking,” she said. “Sometimes people are surprised, because if you look at me, I look like I’m a timid little thing who is not going to talk, but I’ll stand up and politely say, ‘With all due respect, you’re wrong.’”

Walking a line, setting boundaries

Meet Julie Beach. After receiving her EMT certification in 2002, Beach went on to work as an EMS instructor, a flight paramedic, a clinical field supervisor and an administrative captain, before moving into her current role as an EMS supervisor. 

After moving into a leadership position at Falck Alameda County (Calif.), Beach felt it was necessary to "define the boundaries between work and home life in order to effectively lead." 

“Promoting into leadership has taught me that I can’t necessarily be buddy-buddy,” she said. “I try to strike a boundary to make sure that I am able to lead, I’m consistent, and you trust me.”

The answer, according to Beach, is to increase the number of women in the leadership and help cultivate a supportive environment for all, particularly through mentorship, an aspect of the role that Beach appreciates most.

“Choosing strong female mentors has helped ground me in growth and the essential changes that do come along with career advancement,” she said. “From my perspective, the struggles of promotion are unique to both men and women; however, I do feel that women tend to trade likability for professional growth, and that is horrifying. I'd like to change that if I can.”

Beach believes that embracing emotionally intelligent leadership is paramount to being able to provide a more supportive environment.

“I love telling people that I fail all the time to humanize myself,” she said. “People look at a title that you’re supposed to be flawless. The reality is that we’re all on the same playing field; we’re just trying to grow.”

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2021 EMS1. All rights reserved.