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When You Wish Upon A Star


I was in my office between classes when I got a call from one of my graduates. He’d come through the TCC Paramedic Education Program roughly six years ago and was calling to find out exactly what he needed to complete his associate degree. As it turned out, the motivation for his call was a recent decision by the department he worked for to offer a pay incentive for degree completion.

“I wish I’d just buckled down and gotten this done years ago,” he lamented to me.

Having heard that storyline many times before, I shared a revelation from my father from when I was 10 years old and came to him with a wish: “You know dad, I wish I had a new bike.” I suspect the fact that I already had a perfectly good bike factored into his answer when he said, “You know son, you can wish in one hand and spit in the other and at the end of the day you’ll figure out that all you’ve got is a handful of water. You need a better plan.”

This month’s BTB takes a look at some better options for career development, rather than simply wishing upon a star and expecting some magic result.

1. You are just starting out in EMS.

When you consider taking an EMT-B course and getting into EMS, you immediately come to a fork in the road. Are you planning to make EMS a career move or are you going to work for a volunteer fire department? If you are thinking career, then you need to add paramedic credentialing to your plan. It’s not impossible to make a living working as an EMT-B, but it’s really challenging. You’ll have to work lots of hours to make a go of it financially. If your plan is to work for a volunteer fire department and they require EMT-B as part of the process, then EMT-B may be an endpoint for your medical training.

2. You are an EMT-B transitioning to paramedic.

Most medic programs have a minimum standard for EMT-B experience prior to applying for medic school. At my program, that standard is one year of EMT experience. As part of the selection process, we use a 100-point grid that awards points in eight categories. One of those categories is EMT experience, and an applicant can receive up to 10 points (one point for every 100 documented patient contacts, up to a total of 10 points). In my current class, virtually every one of the 24 young men and women maxed out the points in that category by documenting 1,000 calls, and some of them many more that that.

While you are getting the requisite EMT-B saddle time to qualify for a medic program, plan to take the general education classes that make up the second year of an associate degree program. My medic class is 65 credits long (including five credits of A&P and three credits of medical terminology), leaving just 41 credits to complete the Associate of Applied Science degree. That’s just two five-credit classes per quarter for four quarters. After that, you take the medic class, and upon completion, you get both your certificate and your associate degree at the same time.

3. You are a paramedic wishing to advance in your department.

The choices here are driven by the direction you wish to take and whether you are on the private side or the municipal side of the equation. Irrespective of which side you work, you will want a transfer degree in hand before you make the move. That is usually an Associate of Arts and Sciences or an Associate of Applied Science. In either case, a transfer degree let’s you move to a four-year school as a junior, allowing you to focus on your declared major.

On the private side, you are typically looking at moving into a field training officer position or into supervision. If training is where your heart is leading you, then a bachelor’s degree in education will give you a solid platform to make that move. If supervision seems the right choice, either a BS in business management or health care administration are solid choices.

On the municipal side, the pathway is similar but slightly different. Many folks enter into the fire service with an associate degree in fire science. Unfortunately, this is usually considered a technical degree and only 15 credits are transferrable, leaving the other 85 or so credits dead in the water. That’s what makes the transfer degrees so desirable, as the entire block of credits move.

In the fire department setting a paramedic will at some point top out in the pay scale, and will usually have to move from being a medic back to the suppression side so they can move up in rank and pay. Again, that is a move into leadership, so either the business management or the health care administration degree are solid choices. Keep in mind if you’re thinking about being a medical services officer (MSO), that is also a leadership position so the business or admin degree set you up to succeed. Again, an education degree will help if you are planning a move into training.

Having a logical, well thought out, executable plan will help you achieve your career goals. Simply wishing upon a star will not. And we’ve already discussed the matter of wishing in one hand and spitting in the other.

Until next month …

Mike Smith, BS, MICP, is program chair for the Emergency Medical Services program at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, WA, and a member of the EMS World editorial advisory board.

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