In March 2008, EMS Magazine published a study conducted by the EMS office at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, IL. That study surveyed a large number of EMT-Basic students in its area to investigate their backgrounds and expectations of careers in EMS.1
Our first study, entitled "Sowing the SEEDS" (SEEDS stood for the Study of Employment Expectations and Demographics of EMT Students), produced results both expected and surprising. Well over half (63%) of EMT-B students had plans to go on to receive EMT-Paramedic licenses, but a large number were pursuing their licenses as a requirement to work in the fire service, not as EMS professionals. Many of these students were young, with some college education but little to no insight into the EMS field or the differences between becoming an EMT-B or EMT-P. With recruitment and retention issues still among the biggest challenges for the EMS profession, we wanted to expand our research to examine EMT-P students--a project that has not been undertaken and published before.
We distributed a survey instrument consisting of 25 questions to instructors of EMT-P classes throughout the Midwest and selected other states. Additional programs were recruited during a national EMS conference, with several programs volunteering to participate. The majority of programs and students were located in Illinois (73% of participants), with the rest from Missouri (15%), Arkansas (7%) and Indiana (4%). A total of 23 programs agreed to participate, with 18 (78%) sending back completed survey instruments. Survey responses were collected from August 2007-November 2008. We obtained approval with waiver of consent from the Loyola University Medical Center's Institutional Review Board and consent from the lead instructors at each surveyed location. We included a cover letter with the survey explaining the goals of the project, informing students that participation was voluntary, and assuring that responses would remain anonymous. The survey was administered to students within the first two weeks of class and mailed back to the researchers.
Subjects returned a total of 246 out of a possible 275 surveys (89%) from the 18 different locations. The demographics of EMT-P students are shown in Table 1. Students taking EMT-P classes were mainly young adults. More than half (54%) were 24 and younger, and more than three-quarters (78%) were 30 and younger. The majority of students (79%) were male, and 70% reported their marital status as single. This is in line with multiple prior studies showing that EMT-Bs and paramedics are among the youngest allied health professionals.2
Interestingly, about half of participants recently obtained their EMT-B licenses, and the majority had at least one year of work experience. Although paramedic program entrance requirements vary by state and program, the most basic and universal requirement is an EMT-B license. Of the respondents, while 52% had received their EMT-Bs within the last year (2007-08), 35% reported having no experience as an EMT-B. Why are these students pursuing EMS careers? What are their expectations? Our students are coming to programs with some higher-education experience, which is good, but a large number have had no true medical experience or exposure prior to receiving their EMT-B licenses. Instructors need to be aware of this. For students who had worked as EMT-Bs, work experience was very diverse, and was often obtained with fire or private ambulance companies.
Similarly, when asked about their level of familiarity with EMS, 5% of respondents indicated they were "somewhat or very unfamiliar," whereas 95% said they had "average" or "greater than average" familiarity with EMS. This is an improvement in comparison with the EMT-B students surveyed a year ago, of whom 22% indicated they felt either "somewhat unfamiliar" or "very unfamiliar" with the profession. In this study, we also found that 42% of respondents have or had family members in the EMS field. We had hypothesized that having family members in EMS would be associated with individual respondents' choices to enter the field, but results were inconclusive on this point.