The Four-Year Plan

Getting a four-year bachelor's degree can improve an EMS provider's earning potential and career prospects

      You are working the overnight at Regional EMS with your usual partner, and during a pause in the call volume, the conversation turns to plans for the future and your respective careers.

   "What future?" you say. "There is no future in EMS." Then your partner tells you about the management classes she's started taking at the local college--just in case a supervisor spot opens up sometime soon. This gets you thinking about your own options, and you realize that maybe finishing up that bachelor's degree wouldn't be such a bad idea. Before you can think it through any further, though, dispatch comes over the radio with an assignment.


   There have been endless discussions about the academic development of EMS professionals. Discussion points traditionally focus on the realities of education versus training, how education relates to present/future compensation, and professional versus nonprofessional development. Is there value to a college degree for the EMS provider? What about the EMS supervisor or manager? Does the achievement of a bachelor's degree mean anything tangible? Do the answers to these questions differ if you ask them on behalf of the EMS provider or from the perspective of the EMS system?

   One of the most frustrating conversations an EMS leader can have with a promising subordinate involves encouraging that subordinate to get engaged in higher education. This is because the question is always framed in the negative. We are often asked, "Why, for the salaries we see today, should I bother getting a college education?" We would like to utilize this article to frame a different question in a different way.

   Many in leadership positions have visions for the future of EMS that involve stronger, more sophisticated organizations delivering more diverse mixes of services to larger populations--in short, EMS systems that are more than the "one-trick ponies" we've seen in the past. We know this future depends on the development of a new breed of EMS provider, one who is trained in the art and science of EMS and sufficiently educated to lead and participate in the development and operation of this new system. And we know this will require education, at the baccalaureate level and beyond. Like the immigrants who came to America seeking better lives for themselves and their children, we want more for our EMS system and the next generation of EMS systems and providers.

   To build this new system, we will need people who know EMS from the inside out, both practically and theoretically. They will have to have experience in delivering patient care in the field and knowledge of evidence-based medicine. They will require the ability to analyze complex situations and systems, describe them in context that outsiders will understand, communicate effectively, think critically and think outside the box. These tools are developed only through education.

   But what about the individual? Earning a college degree is a long process, requiring a substantial investment of time and energy.

   For the most part, baccalaureate, or bachelor's, degrees can be divided into two large subcategories: Bachelors of Arts (BA) and Bachelors of Science (BS). Both are traditionally four-year degrees if pursued full-time; however, most EMS providers do not exercise the full-time academic option and complete their degrees in more than four years. As an aid, some schools--mostly junior colleges and community colleges, but some four-year schools as well--fer associate's degrees for two full years of study, often in preprofessional areas. These may stand alone, or sometimes be applied as credit toward completion of the four-year degree. This credit option for associate's degrees can be exceptionally useful for the EMS professional.

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