Women in EMS are no longer the novelty they were 20 years ago, but an all-female EMT-B class just might be a first.
In 2009, the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC), The Eleanor Foundation and Superior Air Ground Ambulance Service, Inc. of Elmhurst, IL, joined forces to offer underemployed and unemployed women the education they would need to find a job or new career path.
ICNC is a small business development corporation that funds small businesses, offers educational opportunities and does job placement and pre-interviewing. The Eleanor Foundation is a research-driven public grantmaking fund that helps create conditions for working women to achieve sustained economic independence. After looking at a variety of industries to meet their goals, ICNC and The Eleanor Foundation settled on emergency medical services as a good fit. The result was a fully granted, all-female EMT-B class led by instructor Kelly Begley, CCEMT-P, an employee of Superior.
"The program was advertised on the radio, through The Eleanor Foundation and ICNC Foundation's websites and lots of word of mouth," Begley explains. "After submitting an application, the ladies were asked to come in for testing and interviews, which then determined whether or not they were accepted into the program. At base minimum, they had to be high school graduates or have a GED, had to be of legal age, and have clean criminal and driving records."
Once in the program, students were only allowed to miss two classes, had to maintain an 80% overall average and were not allowed to fail more than one major module test, says Begley. Failure to meet those requirements meant being dropped from the program. Because the course was grant-funded, the women were offered assistance in many ways, including financial management advice, childcare, housing and transportation. Classes were held one day a week for 8 hours, plus a one-night-a-week study session.
"It's pretty demanding," says Begley, "but it's a state-approved, certified, accredited class. Ethnic diversity was not a criteria, but we had a wide spectrum in that regard. The real goal was to offer these women new opportunities for employment and professional growth."
In November 2009, 29 women out of the original 45 graduated from the Illinois Department of Transportation-approved EMT basic course.
"First and foremost, this program is about education, but it also gave participants an opportunity for employment at completion, and the outlook for jobs for these ladies is very good," says Begley. "A good percentage of them are working for Superior, and others are looking for other EMS opportunities in fire departments, ERs or hospitals. Some of them were looking at this as a steppingstone for further education and becoming PAs or RNs."
Without an education, Begley says, it's nearly impossible to earn enough to become self-sufficient. This program gave these women, some of whom are single mothers, an opportunity to invest in their own education and purse a new career without any financial burden.
Women bring an interesting dynamic to EMS, says Begley, with traits that are so compatible with emergency care, such as compassion, diplomacy, nurturing natures, listening to others, problem-solving and developing consensus.
"When I first started in EMS, it wasn't a common thing for women to be employed and functioning. Women were around, but not as many as we have today, and it was a great opportunity for me to offer this class. Our profession continues to face a multitude of challenges, and we would be wise to maximize the skills and talents of women."