Have you ever wondered if there is a plan for EMS? We're not talking about protocols and standing orders, but a plan to turn our occupation into a profession. If you find yourself thinking about where we are now and where we, as a profession, should be years down the line, you're not the only one.
In 1996, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services published the EMS Agenda for the Future, which discussed where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there. When discussing education systems, the EMS Agenda for the Future stated that "EMS education programs should seek accreditation by a nationally recognized accreditation agency. Accreditations should be sought to demonstrate that the educational programs provided meet a predefined national standard of quality." This sentiment was re-emphasized in the 2000 EMS Education Agenda for the Future: A Systems Approach. So what is accreditation? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to EMS? And how are we doing in getting there?
WHAT IS ACCREDITATION?
According to Webster's Dictionary, accreditation is "to recognize (an educational institution) as maintaining standards that qualify the graduates for admission to higher or more specialized institutions or for professional practice." In plain English, that means that a credible authority is checking and documenting that your educational program meets nationally agreed upon standards. Doesn't sound too bad, right? Well, lucky for us, there is a nationally recognized accreditation body in EMS that is currently working on accrediting qualified paramedic programs nationwide. The Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the EMS Professions (CoAEMSP) is the accrediting agency for EMS. It is sponsored by a number of EMS organizations--the National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE) and the National Association of State EMS Officials (NAEMSO), among others. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), a non-profit, non-governmental agency, is the parent organization for CoAEMSP and is also the largest medical accrediting agency in the United States.
National accreditation may seem to some like a bunch of paper-pushing and bureaucratic rigmarole, but there is actually some evidence that it is worthwhile. According to Philip Dickison, et al., in a 2006 study of almost 13,000 individuals, those who attended a nationally accredited paramedic program were more likely to pass the national paramedic certification exam when compared to those whose programs were not nationally accredited. A 2008 study also found that accreditation is one of the most important factors when predicting success on the national certification exam. Success on the national certification exam is important because, in most states, you cannot become a paramedic without first passing that exam. So, in essence, attending a nationally accredited program has been shown to help you advance in the field of EMS. In fact, in the near future, attending a nationally accredited paramedic program may be the only way to advance. The National Registry of EMTs (NREMT) has stated that in 2013, only individuals who have attended a nationally accredited program will be eligible to attempt the national certification exam.
Fourteen years ago, leadership called for national accreditation. In at least two studies national accreditation was associated with success, and it's going to be mandatory in a few years. So where are we in the quest for national accreditation? Well, as expected, there has been some pushback. Not everyone believes that national accreditation is important. But we work for the National Registry, and it may just be that the people who are the most upset speak the loudest. We wanted to know how much people knew about the process of becoming nationally accredited, how they felt about national accreditation, and what the barriers are to becoming accredited. With the help of the CoAEMSP and the National Association of State EMS Officials, we began a study.