Want to know a little bit more about community paramedics and what it takes to become one?
Our subject matter expert David O. Johnson, BS, NRP, CP-C, an EMS instructor based in Minneapolis, tells you about the community paramedic role and what you can expect.
Q: What are the career opportunities for community paramedics?
The opportunities are endless and vast for a properly trained and credentialed community paramedic.
Because of this, community paramedics are put to work in different ways — and it varies by organization and by region. These include:
- Mid-Atlantic region — Working with a community health worker to approach opiate addiction.
- Southwest region — Working with a nurse practitioner in an ambulance that delivers care to 911 callers whose needs are better met outside the ER.
- Southern region — Managing in-home heart failure exacerbation to co-responding with a paramedic ambulance on a cardiac arrest call. Also, you could have a chance to work as an on-call resource for skilled nursing facilities or provide direct care to incarcerated individuals in county jail.
Q: Compared to regular paramedics, are community paramedics compensated better?
There is a modest pay increase in most organizations. This usually happens through a shift differential, unique job class and pay scale, or other premiums.
Additionally, time commitments vary greatly, from per diem work to full-time employment.
Most organizations appreciate the need to better compensate well-educated and informed clinicians with higher wages, increased opportunities for development or flexible work schedules.
Indeed, without becoming a community paramedic, I probably would not have continued as a paramedic.
Q: Is there a demand for community paramedics?
There was an MPR radio piece identifying that there are only 125 certified community paramedics in Minnesota and we need a whole lot more. In fact, I can personally attest to that as we often have full-time positions that go unfilled.
For states where the role is widely accepted, job boards are rife with opportunities for community paramedics.
In states where the community paramedic role is still emerging, interested individuals are really able to write their own meal ticket and build a program from the ground up.
Thus, I suspect that as we continue to make ourselves a vital part of the system, our demand will grow. In turn, our opportunities for career advancement will grow.
Q: What do you like most about being a community paramedic?
The best thing I take from being a community paramedic is a longitudinal approach to caring for my customers.
Traditional paramedic service is very episodic and non-sequitur. Consequently, this drives burnout and job dissatisfaction over time.
Being able to see incremental improvements in the path a customer is taking over time is huge.
Celebrating little victories doesn’t produce the rush you get from getting a return of spontaneous circulation with a good neurological outcome. But, its slow burn is satisfying.
Q: Why do you find the job rewarding?
The job is incredibly rewarding. Perhaps the best example is when a customer refers to you as “my paramedic,” like they would refer to their doctor or pastor.
Consequently, being in a role where patients see you as an integral part of their team who helps give them a bigger voice in their care is something that hits you right in the feels.
Q: What kind of education does one need to become a community paramedic?
Minnesota was the first state to have official credentialing. Prior to becoming a certified community paramedic, I finished a technical college semester of didactic and an extensive clinical experience. That was my foundation.
Q: About how long does it take to gain necessary education to become a community paramedic?
Under the curriculum from the Savvik Foundation, and Minnesota’s requirements, it takes about a year to get your community paramedic certification. Many states have adopted similar requirements or expectations.
I don’t think that this is nearly enough for paramedics to fully understand the world in which we work. I think it should take at least two years to complete your community paramedic education with a more intensive didactic and clinical experience.
This is difficult to ask in a world where your prospective community paramedics are already often full-time working professionals and there is no precedent or financial attenuation for an EMS agency to return a productive employee to the education system.
Q: Does it require a bachelor’s degree?
There is no requirement for a community paramedic to have a bachelor’s degree in the U.S.
However, our counterparts in Australia, Canada and the UK have either made the switch, or are in the process of making a transition to requiring a bachelor’s degree to practice even at the traditional advanced care paramedic level (equivalent to the U.S. paramedic level of care).
Q: What was the hardest part of the exam itself?
Getting around to doing it in the first place!
Once I actually got around to scheduling it and going to take the test, it was pretty easy from there. The test was challenging, but I felt pretty prepared going into the test.
The test is written largely from the perspective of administrators and policy makers. So, it is not all that heavy on clinical information, as you may expect.
Knowing a lot about the community needs assessment is huge.
Q: What else can you share with your peers interested in becoming a community paramedic?
Being able to be at the tip of the spear is a really cool opportunity. It is a huge change in your workflow and presents you with a number of new challenges, from accessing populations differently to redefining what professional boundaries look like.
Having a better systems understanding is part of being a community paramedic, but more importantly, a community paramedic skill set makes you a better traditional paramedic.