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Earning a Degree Can Boost Careers of Paramedics, EMTs

Paramedics and EMTs work in a fast-paced environment day-to-day. Likewise, their career field is moving at a hurried pace as well. Job growth for the emergency medical services industry is projected to grow by 24 percent through 2024—much faster than the average for all jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This demand demonstrates how vital EMTs and paramedics are to the core of municipalities’ emergency response network.

So much responsibility requires a great deal of training and education to care for injured people daily. The road to becoming a paramedic requires completing EMT basic training and certification and then can include more training for specialized paramedic work and licensing processes.

While some may see this as enough education, many paramedics and EMTs are opting to go a step further and earn a degree. Whether for promotion to management or a love of learning, a degree can make a difference in pay.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for EMTs and paramedics was $31,980 in 2015. Many paramedics and EMTs struggle with this and may work a second job to make ends meet.

“There is a cap to what organizations can pay their medics because reimbursement is essentially fixed with almost no increases year after year. So, unless call volume goes up or a new service line (additional revenue) occurs, there just isn't a profit margin to offer higher pay,” explained Jeannie Newton-Riner, lead faculty at Columbia Southern University (CSU), an online institution that offers various degrees for first responders.

According to, a typical director in EMS makes an average salary of approximately $61,000. This position and many others in EMS management, based on factors such as location, company ownership, etc., require a degree.

While a degree may not be for every paramedic or EMT, Riner, who has held multiple roles in the EMS field, thinks there are subcategories of paramedics, those in critical care and community paramedicine for example, who would benefit greatly from an associate or bachelor’s degree.

CSU emergency medical services administration student Julee Todd added, “I think the written/verbal communication skills achieved through education will serve paramedics and the public they serve immensely. While writing a patient care report is different from writing a paper for school, the language and communication skills are a tremendous asset throughout any career.”

Fellow student Daniel Tyk agreed with Riner.

“I am a huge advocate for continued education. While I believe that requiring all paramedics to have an associate degree would create critical shortages at small rural EMS providers, I do believe that in order to be a supervisor, a degree should be required,” said Tyk, who works as EMS manager.

For those seeking management in EMS, Riner said there have been some increased level of education requirements incorporated into higher EMS management and education fields. 

“The bachelor’s degree in emergency medical services administration that we offer is filling that need very well. We offer a range of topics, but most importantly, our courses have flexibility so that the student can almost cater the assignments to fit their own needs. EMS personnel are employed in a variety of settings. This degree will work for pretty much any of those settings as long as the student has an EMS background,” she said.

Tyk concurred, as the coursework has been very beneficial for him.

“CSU courses have prepared me to look beyond the everyday managerial responsibilities and refocus on how to take a 30,000-foot view of decisions that are made to align with strategic goals, increasing efficiencies and creating innovation within the organization,” he explained.

Riner also reminds those thinking about a degree, “All EMS professors at CSU have been in their students’ shoes at some point and work well with them to support their success. Not all programs and colleges can say the same.”

“CSU provides the affordable, flexible foundation to offer courses that are realistic, valuable, applicable, relevant and personalized so each student can get the most for their investment of the precious free time they have and their hard-earned money,” she stated.

About Columbia Southern University

One of the nation’s pioneer online universities, Columbia Southern University was established in 1993 to provide an alternative to the traditional university experience. CSU offers online associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees such as business administration, criminal justice, fire administration and occupational safety and health. Visit or call (877) 347-6050 to learn more.

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