Take Your EMS Career from Good to Great

Having–and putting into effect–a plan B for your career doesn’t mean you have to scrap your plan A.

Having–and putting into effect–a plan B for your career doesn’t mean you have to scrap your plan A. In fact, your plan B can  enhance your current EMS career, even as it prepares you for a professional life after EMS.

For John Todaro, that plan B came when he was working full-time as a paramedic and realized in order to advance his career he would need additional education.

“I had numerous discussions with my coworkers and various EMS and emergency nursing leaders about what my next step should be,” Todaro says.

Todaro, now the executive director of the Lowcountry Regional EMS Council in Charleston, SC, began his EMS career in St. Petersburg, FL, when he was barely out of high school. He attended EMT school during his senior year, completing the course in April 1976. He graduated high school in May 1976 and started paramedic school that August, completing his paramedic coursework in December. While working full-time as a paramedic he obtained his associate of science degree in paramedicine/EMS in April 1981.

For Todaro, the choices for his plan B were simple.

“I narrowed it down to two choices: go to nursing school or get a bachelor’s degree,” Todaro explains. “This was in 1983 and there were very few B.S. or B.A. degree programs in EMS in the country, and none in Florida. I was working as a paramedic for a rural EMS agency and was two hours away from the nearest university. There was a community college within 30 minutes of my home and work and they had a good A.S. degree nursing program.

“I decided on nursing school for several reasons,” continues Todaro. “I discovered I was eligible for a scholarship program through the American Legion. More important, after much discussion and research I felt that the nursing degree (RN) would be more versatile then a bachelor’s degree at [that] point in my career. I felt that having an RN license, in addition to my paramedic license, would give me more career options than a paramedic license with a B.S. or B.A.”

Eventually Todaro did acquire a bachelor’s degree in business administration/healthcare management as well.

“Nursing school was, to say the least, an interesting experience,” Todaro says. “You have to keep in mind this was the 1980s and nursing was still considered a women’s profession. The nursing faculty did not fully appreciate having males in the class, let alone paramedics. However, my cohorts (the other three males in the class, all paramedics) and I persevered and completed the program. The program was a good complement to my paramedic education. I gained extensive knowledge in patient assessment, pathophysiology, pharmacology, documentation and bedside manner, which greatly enhanced my career in EMS.”

For all its advantages, getting his nursing degree wasn’t easy for the young paramedic. His American Legion scholarship covered roughly half the cost of tuition, so Todaro paid for the rest out of pocket. And even though he was advised not to, he worked full-time as a paramedic—as did his three friends—while attending nursing school.

But being a paramedic and RN created more opportunities for Todaro than even he initially envisioned. He was able to work as a flight nurse/paramedic, and he expanded a part-time position teaching EMTs into a paramedic instructor position and eventually an education leadership position.

“Additionally, I found that my opinions, ideas and expanded knowledge and skills were more readily accepted by not only the EMS and nursing personnel I worked with, but with the physicians as well,” Todaro says.

And there were other advantages.

“You can work full-time as a paramedic on 24/48 hour shifts and work part-time as RN between your shifts, or vice versa. It certainly [gave] me a more open field for potential employment, so I feel it helped maintain security in my career.”

That experience and security meant Todaro didn’t have to abandon his EMS roots to advance his career.

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