New National Association for Emergency Medical Technicians President Matt Zavadsky, MS-HSA, NREMT, shares his insights on current paramedic education trends.

He addresses the ongoing debate in paramedic education on whether paramedics should be required to obtain a college degree.

What are current paramedic education requirements?

Currently paramedic education varies from state by state. But most states develop a curriculum with about 1,200 to 1,700 hours of training.

It’s not a degree, per se, but it’s an approved paramedic curriculum and, generally, paramedics have to graduate from an accredited or approved paramedic training program that’s affiliated with an accredited institution.

Historically, paramedics required just 750 training hours to obtain their cerifications. So the programs have increased the number of hours needed for accreditation.

Is it a good idea to require paramedics to earn degrees?

Paramedics have been trained and certified the same way since the late 1970s.

There’s never been a degree requirement and there’s never been any research to suggest whether a paramedic with a degree has better patient outcomes compared to a paramedic without a degree. So there’s no proof that what we’ve been doing with education programs for paramedics is broken.

Further, I believe – based on reading and talking to folks leading the initiative – that if paramedics were required to have a degree, the paramedic profession would have a higher standing in the healthcare system and paramedics would be paid more.

On the surface, having more educated paramedics may help the profession. But no one has articulated what kind of degree is needed in paramedicine. Is it biology, pharmacology or art? What is the coursework for a degree in paramedicine? Some colleges already offer EMS degrees.

In comparison, the education of a physician’s assistant requires a biology-based degree.

Here’s the real reality. EMS systems today are funded either through tax dollars, Medicare or billing insurance carriers for ambulance transport, or a combination of both.

Under current payment methodologies, where Medicare pays a portion for ambulance transport, it’s unclear how the healthcare system would fund this, given that paramedics would expect higher wages.

Would the money come from taxpayers? Subsidies? A cost study for EMS could help determine the cost to provide an ambulance trip. Medicare is already underpaying.

A paramedic with a degree would put more pressure on EMS agencies to pay higher wages.

Who should decide about paramedic education requirements?

There is an EMS education agenda – you can look up the Education Agenda for the Future for details online. The panel consists of education and clinical professionals.

When did the idea come about for paramedics to obtain degrees?

paramedic educationWithin the last five years, but then it became a big point of contention … by two different groups.

Some people suggested all paramedics should have a degree by 2025, and that took others by surprise because that position was not collaboratively developed by multiple EMS stakeholder groups. That’s why there aren’t more logos on that position paper.

In contrast, there was another initiative that occurred in 2016 with a white paper on EMS transformation. A number of stakeholder groups got together to talk about EMS future.

Nine EMS stakeholder groups came up with a unified consensus paper on the future role of EMS. It was a deliberative process that took two years to develop. It was a foundation on which to build to work toward the same goal.

But we need more industry dialogue and discussion about the potential unintended consequences that could occur if paramedic education requires you to get a degree.

Some people have suggested requiring paramedics to a get a degree could add too much risk without enough reward if. Do you agree?

Only 40% of people require paramedic care. Paramedics have been saving lives for 30 to 40 years, what difference will it make having a degree for a person who spends 30 minutes with a patient?

It’s protocol-driven medicine under the license of a physician. Paramedics are not diagnosing people and determining the best course of treatment. So, they’re treating people based on protocol for symptoms.

Are paramedics for or against a degree requirement?

Paramedics who think they will make $5,000 more annually — they are for it. The fire authority’s position in general is they are against it. The educators support it.

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