You have been working in your present EMT position for a few years and feel you have a firm grasp of operations and BLS procedures. When you started EMS, you might have thought this would be a good way to give back to the community or make some extra money; however, over the last few months, you have been seriously considering a career in EMS. As you look through your training history, it becomes apparent that in order to make a career out of EMS, there are some steps you need to take. What courses do you take first? What direction would you like your career to take? What path is the most appropriate for you?
A career in EMS is really narrowed down to the decisions you make. The good news is that, at any time during your EMS career, you can change the focus of your studies without having to take steps backward. For example, if you start out being a career paramedic and want to get into EMS management, a few classes can help you achieve that goal. The reverse is also true. The following five tips may help you pick or switch the current career path you are on.
1 Educate Yourself
I can't say enough about education. The more classes and continuing medical education credits you get, the more marketable you will be. When going to national or state conferences, pick tracks that most fit with your overall career goals. If you are currently an EMT and think you might be interested in becoming a paramedic, take a few of the courses listed in the ALS track. Likewise, most EMS conferences now feature management courses; expand your knowledge by attending one of these. In addition to conferences, seek out EMS courses that offer college credit, certificates or degrees.
2 Plan Your Career
Take time to plan your career. Goal-setting is a skill that takes time to develop. Whether you choose the operations route, management or even being an EMS educator, you will want to set goals for yourself. Start with small, attainable goals like completing an EMT-Basic course or completing an associate's degree in business management. Your small goals should add up and feed into your big-picture goal. Preplanning will help steer the direction of your education and also provide milestones and checkpoints for your professional achievements.
3 Be Flexible
Keep an open mind to changes in your goal-setting process. Know when to push through and when to reevaluate your situation. There really are no hard and fast rules about when to evaluate how well your process is going; however, as discussed in the last section, you will reach milestones throughout your path. At those times, it is a good idea to take a step back and look at how well your plan is working. Don't be afraid to change direction. There are many opportunities, from operations (EMT/paramedic/line supervisor) to management (training/middle management/HR/billing) that you may have not considered.
4 Try Different Organizations
Within the scope of practice, individual organizations perform general EMS functions differently. Agencies have different policies and procedures that differentiate them. Try commercial EMS agencies and volunteer or mixed organizations to gain as much knowledge in operations as possible. This will become particularly important if your career path steers you toward management.
5 Find a Mentor
Mentors are an important part of career success. We don't put enough emphasis on finding people to guide us through our careers. A seasoned paramedic can provide a world of guidance to a new EMT. Similarly, an experienced EMS manager can assist newer supervisors in gaining necessary skills. How do you know what you are getting into? Trying to navigate EMS systems can be intimidating, even for personnel who have been around for a while. Imagine what it's like to be starting out in a new system. Mentors will not only teach you how to take a blood pressure correctly, they will show you why you are taking a specific action. When you hit a crossroad between management and operations career paths, a mentor can help you ask the right questions to make wise decisions.
Your career will take many turns over time, and there will be plenty of opportunities if you position yourself along the way. Two important things to remember about planning your career are: It is never too late to change, and always keep an open mind. EMS is a growing profession and things continue to change. Stay in tune through education, and find a mentor to help guide you. If you really want a career in EMS, go after it. This is an exciting time to be part of a changing environment. How will you leave your mark?
Daniel E. Glick, BPS, AEMT-CC, is the executive director of the Mountain Lakes Regional EMS Council (NY) and a health service administrator for the 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, New York Air National Guard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.