Graduate Degrees: Are They Worth It for EMS?

Why EMS leaders of tomorrow need advanced postgraduate degrees


   There's a lot to consider when trying to figure out if pursuing a graduate degree is the right path for you.

   That's especially true for those in EMS. Many of us wonder about the value of graduate education, and the impact it can have on our careers. Some typical questions are: What types of graduate degrees are out there? What will a graduate degree help me achieve? Will it help advance my career? What will it teach me? Do I really need a graduate-level degree to succeed as a supervisor, manager or executive in the diverse world of EMS?

   Our industry is undergoing some profound changes right now. The first generation of EMS executives is starting to retire. These are the folks to whom we sometimes point and say, "They did it without degrees--why can't I?" There are two answers to this question.

   The first is that the original generation of EMS leaders was inventing modern EMS as they went along, and many grew up within organizations and systems that could have done better with some science and academics in the mix. The second is that many of the early leaders in fact had academic credentials to support their accomplishments--Jim Page, Jay Fitch, David Boyd, John Chew, Bill Brown, Walt Stoy, Gregg Margolis and Baxter Larmon come to mind, all with at least master's degrees, and several with doctorates.

   EMS is now competing for scarce resources in a challenging environment--one where those who allocate resources demand proof that money spent will result in an appropriate return. Proof of value requires research, analysis and advocacy--skills learned only in the higher-education environment. If our industry is to effectively meet the challenges of the future, it will need leaders who can work effectively in environments where their "competitors"--city, county and state department heads, program directors, and other managers--possess graduate academic credentials as a matter of course.

   A graduate degree attests not only to knowledge of a specific subject matter, but also to one's commitment, tenacity and dedication. It suggests that no matter what the degree is in, the holder has the ability to do research, think critically, write persuasively and understand and advocate for complex concepts and processes.

   The EMS community has a tremendous need for leaders. One does not become a leader just through education, but having core abilities like these will help an aspiring leader be more professionally effective, smoothing the leadership development path.

   Besides leaders, though, EMS needs educated specialists to establish a body of knowledge for our profession. We have a wealth of clinical research, contributed mostly by our physician colleagues. But outside the medical realm, we have a dearth of knowledge about our business. In many cases, important decisions are based on things like anecdotal information, personal opinion, charisma and rhetorical skill. Sit and chat for a few minutes, and you can probably come up with a whole menu of topics that cry out for good research. What deployment model is most effective at delivering response performance? Do dynamic deployment and streetcorner posting improve it? What is the impact of that model on our line personnel? Does the size of the ambulance influence the delivery of patient care? What about the health and safety of personnel? A graduate degree will help equip you to answer these questions and more.

DEGREES TO CONSIDER

   Before you say, "That's not for me!" consider the many degree options available.

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