To degree or not to degree. That is the question.

Paramedic Text Book

Did you know the current education requirement to become a paramedic in the United States is not sufficient enough to allow them to work in Canada, Australia, or the United Kingdom?

Recently the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) submitted a joint statement with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). In the letter dated December 30th, 2018 the joint statement outlines the agencies position on not supporting any legislative requiring paramedics to complete a minimum of an associates degree prior to entering the field.

Joint IAFC IAFF NFPA NCFC Statement
Joint IAFC IAFF NFPA NCFC Statement

The joint statement expresses concerns that stricter educational requirements would reduce the number of eligible schools that are able to provide the required training. The lack of educational opportunities along with current paramedics who don’t currently hold an associates degree would in turn reduce the total number of paramedics eligible for hire. The joint statement reports this would put a strain on the EMS system and could have catastrophic effects.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why the IAFC, IAFF, NFPA, and NVFC don’t support turning paramedicine into a degreed profession:

It will cost more money to train paramedics. It the current system there are paramedic schools local fire department use that turn an EMT into a paramedic in as little as ten months. This would be impossible if an associates degree was required. This increase in training costs would require budget alterations. Essentially the fire department justifies their budget by padding call volume with EMS related calls. Due to the advent of modern fire suppression and detection devices the fire service has seen a decrease in volume. To staff an EMS based fire service comes the need for ALS crew members and the cost associated with training them. The cost for a department to send a firefighter to paramedic school is substantially more expensive then hiring a paramedic who already obtained his certification.

Requiring higher education would in turn reduce the number of eligible paramedics for hire. With a basic understanding of supply and demand this would increase already rock bottom paramedic wages. Increased wages put an additional strain on the fire departments budget.

Now I’d like to review why this position doesn’t favor first responders:

Currently the average hourly wage for a Paramedic in the United States is $18.84 per hour. The starting pay for an In-N-Out Burger employee is $14.00 per hour. A fundamental change in the professional such as a degree requirement would be beneficial for those who are currently paramedics or aspire to become paramedics. A wage increase would also increase the amount of candidates and desire of those already in the field to promote.

Just because there is no current evidence that suggests any difference between a degreed and a non-degreed paramedic doesn’t mean there is no evidence. Requiring someone to obtain more education doesn’t have a downside, period. In the statement the group even acknowledges this stating they encourage members to seek to enhance their education.

The profession of paramedicine in the United States is far behind other nations in both scope and skill. Most notably the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. All of whom require a minimum of a two year degree for entry level paramedics.

The joint statement also expresses concern about the possible reduction of educational venues such as trade schools and technical schools. Although there are a handful of good trade schools, consolidation of EMS training into more established two year program run at the local community college makes more sense. Reducing the number of fly by night trade schools in your local strip mall may reduce the amount of educational opportunities, however it would benefit the profession long term weeding out those who can’t pass a basic english or math class. This would increase the quality of the average street paramedic thus increasing value.

We took a straw poll of 86 current and former paramedics. I was interested in find out what their take was on the matter. The poll showed that 69% of respondents currently have an associates degree of some form. Around 71% of those who participated in the poll think that the current required education necessary to become a paramedic in the United States is not adequate. 50% felt they didn’t spend enough time in school learning the required material. On a more global scale 66% did not feel professionally competitive with paramedics from other parts of the world.

As a due paying member of the IAFF, the position taken by the IAFC, IAFF, NFPA, and NVFC is extremely concerning. It appears the involved parties are putting budget concerns before an opportunity to improve and advance a profession that has been long overdue for improvement. I understand their viewpoint, however budget concerns shouldn’t supersede higher education, increased wages, and the advancement of the career field.

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