Loggin' In: Online EMS Management Degree Programs

It's midday in the town of Aberdeen, WA. Paramedic/firefighter Nick Swinhart sits down at the fire station's computer to attend class.


It's midday in the town of Aberdeen, WA. Paramedic/firefighter Nick Swinhart sits down at the fire station's computer to attend class. Swinhart is enrolled in a college located almost 3,000 miles away in Washington, DC, where he is an undergraduate student in The George Washington University's Bachelor of Health Sciences EMS Management degree program. From the comforts of his station, he logs in and joins a growing number of emergency services professionals attending college via the Internet.

EMS Management Degree

Over the last 20 years, bachelor's programs around the country have been developed to meet the needs of future EMS leaders. More recently, this has expanded into a handful of graduate-level degree programs.

Brian Maguire is an associate professor and the director for distance learning at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) in Baltimore, MD, which has the longest running EMS Management degree program in the country. He believes EMS degree programs have come at a great time in the industry.

"As the EMS profession evolves, I see a part of this evolution including a need for EMS managers to have a college-level education," says Maguire. "We saw this with doctors at the turn of the last century, then nursing, and now it's occurring in EMS."

Rick Fuller, assistant professor at Drexel University's EMS program in Philadelphia, PA, agrees.

"EMS programs may be experiencing the same thing as the nursing profession," Fuller says. "When we started looking at this situation, we saw that EMS degrees offered something that was missing in EMS."

Rooting ourselves in higher education is what Fuller believes will help EMS grow as an industry and a profession, with EMS degree programs offering participants the opportunity to take management theory and convert it into practical concepts.

"I would argue that education doesn't replace experience and experience doesn't replace education," he says. "They complement each other. An advanced EMS degree provides students with a broad body of knowledge that's applicable to EMS by taking mainstream concepts you might find in an MBA or MPH program and targeting them to specific EMS applications."

That's what Steve Hare, executive director of West End Fire Company #3 in Phoenixville, PA, a small suburb of Philadelphia, thought when he looked at UMBC to pursue his graduate degree.

"EMS was my career choice, and getting into UMBC has only enhanced my career," says Hare, who believes earning an advanced degree in EMS management will help him become an effective manager. He also views a graduate degree in EMS as an attribute that makes him stand out among his peers.

"I've been able to apply what I learned in class in my workplace," says Hare.

This is one of the real benefits of pursuing an EMS management degree versus a more traditional MBA or MPH, says Maguire.

"You can attend a traditional business school, but you won't learn key information needed to manage an EMS system," states Maguire. "We want graduates to be able to run an EMS agency and have a perspective of how EMS fits into the healthcare world."

EMS management curriculum includes course work in quality management, materials and fleet management, human resources, strategic and financial planning, reimbursement, law and policy, resource deployment and high-performance EMS systems. Classes are targeted at what EMS leaders need to know in order to run an effective and efficient emergency service.

"That's the best part for me," says Hare. "Every class relates to something going on at work, and I've been able to apply what I've learned. That's real-world application."

Tony Shrader, a paramedic, assistant training officer with the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of EMS and a Drexel University student, agrees with Hare. "When we talk about budgets in my courses, we talk about EMS budgets, not other industries."

But It's Online

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