Remember when high school teachers announced those infamous pop-quizzes?

Armed with a No. 2 pencil in-hand, each person strategically positioned their right or left forearm over the exam sheet to hide their answers. Yet that one person in the classroom still tried to sneak a peek at your test. And some people get caught cheating during EMS testing administered by the National Registry, too. These include exams for EMTs, AEMTs, EMRs and paramedics. The extent to which it happens, however, is hard to say.

“The National Registry does track the frequency of irregular conduct, but we do not share that information publicly,” said a spokesperson for the National Registry of EMTs. “What we are willing to share, though, is that based on approximately 150,000 examinations per year, the occurrence is extremely infrequent.”

For those people who roll the dice on cheating, the risks outweigh the rewards.

“You could potentially throw away your entire career,” said Mark Terry chief certification officer for the National Registry. “It is an absurd risk that has no upside.”

In order to maintain high standards of EMS testing security, the National Registry uses Pearson VUE, a third-party testing service provider.

“In concert with Pearson VUE, we have several high security measures in place to prevent and detect cheating,” said Dr. Greg Applegate, chief science officer for the National Registry.

Consequences of falsifying documents and EMS testing results

Completing the required continuing education credits to keep licensure up-to-date is just part of the job. One simply cannot avoid it. To minimize continuing education fraud, various agencies conduct random checks to ensure CE documents are authentic.

“We here at EMSA have an audit process where we audit continuing education for paramedics and we randomly select 10% of renewal candidates per month, but it’s a pre-renewal audit,” said Sean Trask, EMT-P, MPA Chief, with EMS Personnel Division Emergency Medical Services Authority in Rancho Cordova, Calif.

Random checks detect people who think they can get away with falsifying documents.

“It ensures paramedics are completing the relevant continuing education related to pre-hospital emergency medical care,” Trask said.

After an audit, Trask said sometimes they catch people who try to turn in fraudulent CE certificates.

“They may have changed a date or a class they took in a previous renewal cycle,” he said. “Or they wrote in a course title but never took the course.”

When this happens, Trask said they notify the Paramedic Enforcement Unit; that’s where the nightmare begins.

“We turn them over to the Paramedic Enforcement Unit for investigation of fraud in the procurement of any paramedic license.”

If a paramedic falsified documents, the EMSA typically slaps them with a $2,500 fine — payable within 90 days.

Besides taking a hit to the wallet, EMSA also adds their name to a database where future employers can see the lapse in judgement.

“In California, if somebody is found to have falsified documents, and we do discipline their certificate or license for fraud, this is put on our public lookup which is accessible on our web page,” Trask said. “You can pull up their name and if it says ‘Fraud in the Procurement,’ that’s up there for life.” 

Detection protocols

Scott McConnell, BSN, RN, PHRN, NRP, senior channel marketing manager with Distance CME, sometimes takes calls from EMS agencies or HR departments that suspect adulterated CE certificates.

McConnell said there have been only a few documented cases where EMS personnel have tried to submit falsified CE credits for license renewal even though they did not take the courses or go through the requisite EMS testing.

For example, when the California EMSA conducts random audits, McConnell typically gets that call.

“A provider will send them a certificate from DCME and they will say, ‘We are doing a random audit, did this person take the class?’”

McConnell then plays detective to validate whether said person actually signed up for the class or logged the hours online.

In another case, a hospital HR department inquired whether Distance CME tracked IP addresses each time a student logged into the online continuing education class, said McConnell. The IP address contains unique identifiers which act like a trail of breadcrumbs.

“The IP address is based on the location of a computer, not the computer itself that was used to login,” McConnell said.

McConnell then determined the person in question was not the same person who actually logged the continuing education hours. The information provided to the hospital was enough evidence for them to make a final decision.

“The hospital consequently fired the person and reported it to the State Bureau of EMS,” McConnell said.

Distance CME takes these matters seriously and takes steps to legitimize all continuing education credits taken by students.

“Every time someone finishes our classes we report it to CAPCE,” McConnell said. “When National Registry does audits they can go into the national database and can see that said person completed a 48-hour refresher.”

Prepare for your own EMS testing with our library of live, online courses.