If you've been in EMS for some time and believe the window of opportunity for furthering your education has already closed, think again. For Jim Morrissey, MA, EMT-P, it was 23 years from the time he received his initial bachelor's degree in experiential education until he earned a master's degree in Homeland Security from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA--one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
"I was always interested in pursuing a master's degree, but it's expensive, time-consuming, and you have to continue to have income, and the time just never came up," says Morrissey, the EMS disaster and terrorism preparedness coordinator for Alameda County EMS, a tactical paramedic for the San Francisco FBI SWAT team and a medical intelligence officer for the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. "When I found out a friend of mine had graduated from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) with a degree in Homeland Security, it peaked my interest, because part of my EMS duties are related to working with the homeland security community and representing the health and medical side of things."
Little did Morrissey know how difficult it is to get into the master's program.
"There were well over 800 applicants for 30 slots, so the competition was significant," he says. "Most of the previous graduates from the program had been military, federal, FBI or with fire departments, with little participation from the health and medical community, which I find to be consistent in federal funding for homeland security efforts. EMS has received very little funding and support compared with fire, police, SWAT teams, intelligence centers and other entities that are critically important. As one article put it, EMS is the 'forgotten responder.' So in my application I said, 'EMS needs to be at the table. We have a voice, we have expertise, we are part of the first responder community, and we work closely with public and environmental health.' Between that, my FBI background and the fact that I have some writing capability, I was accepted into the program.
"The way the program works is that you spend two weeks each quarter in residence, and the rest you do from home and work," he adds. "Clearly, the emphasis is on trying to tie your work into the Homeland Security master's program and bring lessons back to your community. The first week of the two weeks in residence is the end of the quarter, so people are presenting their papers and tying up the courses they just completed. The second week is the start of the next quarter, so you get all your initial lectures, books and assignments. They have an extremely robust online program that includes forums, and you're required to post responses to articles or papers, so the academic rigor is extremely intense and time-consuming. You very clearly need the support of the agency you come from to be able to be successful."
A major advantage to the 18-month program is that there is no cost to students, says Morrissey. "They pay per diem and travel. I was able to drive to Monterey because I'm in northern California, but people flew in from all over the country on the government's dime. We were issued iPods with all of the lectures on them, and we were given computers that were not expected back, so it's an expensive program, but they make it palatable for anybody, as long as your agency knows you're going to be away for two weeks every quarter and part of your job will be devoted to doing assignments and projects related to your degree."
In March 2007, Morrissey earned the master's degree in Homeland Security and began the next phase of his career.
"They created a position for me here at the EMS agency as supervisor of the EMS managers, and I had an agreement with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center to be assigned part time as a subject matter expert and a medical health intelligence officer," he says.
So what advice does Morrissey have for eager EMS providers who might be interested in the Naval Postgraduate School?