As I’m out traveling and teaching, one of the more common topics of conversation is mandatory paramedic program accreditation. Beginning January 2013, the National Registry will no longer test paramedic graduates from non-accredited programs. Speculation as to what this actually means is fuel for the overly active imagination. To separate facts from fantasy, I talked to CoAEMSP (Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Services Professions) Executive Director George W. Hatch, Jr., EdD, LP, EMT-P, to get the skinny on what is unquestionably one of the most significant policy shifts in the history of the EMS profession.
What do you see as the primary benefits of CoAEMSP accreditation?
Standardization. The need for all paramedic education programs to be measured using the same “yardstick” is essential to the growth of the profession. Currently, it’s uncertain that paramedic graduates have the same educational experiences as their colleagues nationally. The fact is, there is a wide disparity of just how we view a “minimally competent” entry-level paramedic. Another objective in this process is to protect the student. Although we are not advocating that all paramedic educational offerings occur in colleges, it is essential that students understand that accreditation assures their education experience meets rigorous standards, particularly with national acceptance and portability.
Describe how the relationship between CoAEMSP and any given paramedic program works.
The CoAEMSP is the professional body that is responsible for all of the “heavy lifting” with the Commission of Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accreditation process. We provide technical assistance to program directors (PDs) and state EMS officials, as well as the national EMS community. PDs can expect to submit their program self-studies to the executive office and receive a detailed executive analysis about the submission. Next, a site visit is scheduled and two peers (generally a paramedic educator and physician) will be on hand for two days to verify the submission is correct and take a look at the program with “boots on the ground.” A detailed but, at that point, unofficial report is generated on site, which is followed in several weeks by a detailed findings letter. The findings become the emphasis for action by the CoAEMSP board of directors, who act upon a recommendation for accreditation action and send it to CAAHEP for final disposition.
Why do you think some EMS educators have this “fear factor” with the accreditation process?
Most educators are fearful of the unknown and of change. Will my paramedic program measure up? What happens if we don’t meet the standards? Who are these folks and why do we need to do this? All of these questions/feelings are legitimate in that this process is about change, and that in and of itself makes people uncomfortable. To anyone seeking accreditation in the years to come, I would say, your program is not perfect. Mine wasn’t, and neither are the programs that are currently accredited. What we all share is the need to continually strive to improve the education experience for our students. The accreditation process is designed to allow programs to meet the standards as they move forward. It’s a process of continuous quality improvement. Think of it as an opportunity to demonstrate that your program does meet a national peer review standard. If you are waiting to have the perfect self-study before you send it in, it will never get done. Do it as openly and honestly as you can, and expect that you will discover things that you do well along with things that need improvement. Look at it as an opportunity to gather data that shows what you need and quantifies those needs to the advantage of the program, e.g., new faculty, better equipment, improved classroom space.