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Importance of continuing education and skill improvement for EMTs and paramedics

As the world is desperately fighting the pandemic, people are recognizing the importance of the services emergency health technicians and paramedics offer to their communities. With this, the debate about the minimum education requirements for paramedics is also on the rise. There are some who continue to argue that the possession of a degree is unnecessary and poses a threat to the viability of the profession. While some say that to keep the EMS industry vibrant and effective, we need top-notch and readily available continuing education.

According to many, the argument that higher education is unnecessary is shortsighted and continues to hamper the industry from expanding its role in health care and public safety. In fact, continuing education is a necessary and required element for an efficient EMT or any healthcare provider. With the increasing complexity of field care being delivered in a dynamic and often uncontrolled environment, it's critical that future paramedics earn at least a college degree in order to begin practice.

The following are some reasons as to why continuing education and skill improvement for EMTs and paramedics are essential.

1. Education equals to better-prepared paramedics

In order to achieve a degree, a student must complete a basic series of courses. For example, having command of English fundamentals is a critical element for paramedic students. Paramedic textbooks can be difficult to understand for those with lower education as they are written at the 12th grade or college freshman level. Additionally, paramedics must have the skill to communicate quickly, succinctly, and accurately, both verbally and in writing. In colleges, students learn how to choose words wisely, articulate points of view with clarity, and defend opinions with thoughtful arguments.

And, it doesn’t just end there…math and accounting courses train the brain to work logically through difficult problems, making rational decisions. Drug calculations, determining the destination, etc. become simpler to understand as the paramedic’s math skills sharpen.

History, philosophy, and other liberal arts courses also contribute to the ability to think critically and reason logically. They force students to think about the diversity of opinion, ideas, and concepts rather than pass judgment.

2. Paramedicine is becoming more complex by the day

The EMS industry has changed tremendously over the years. Now, a better understanding of anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology is required by paramedics. Technologies such as multi-lead ECGs, waveform capnography, infield labs, lactate monitoring, and ultrasound all require expertise in using and interpreting the data.

Many EMS systems depend on private health insurance and Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement. As the industry has taken a financial setback over the past decade, it has not been able to demonstrate its actual value. The increase of mobile health principles and community paramedicine programs, will not only from a financial perspective but also from the viewpoint of pure clinical outcomes. Future paramedics have to be competent in public health concepts, short-term, and chronic care, and non-urgent clinical issues just as they are in emergency medicine.

That means higher education is a must to understand and incorporate these areas. Courses should be taught by subject matter experts to the greater body of knowledge that the paramedic needs to possess. Independent study or research projects are an opportunity for paramedic students to broaden or gain knowledge in the developing areas of health care.

3. Education equals the growth of field medicine

A recent study shows that many people believe that an associate's degree should be required for paramedics to practice. However, the fact that most employers and regulatory agencies don't require a degree for licensing paramedics is hindering what must happen.

The EMS industry has undoubtedly done a great job in adapting to the evolving world order of medicine and reimbursement, but it's not sustainable without a strong foundation of well-prepared practitioners — both clinically and academically.

Furthermore, with more responsibilities and greater autonomy, will likely come greater recognition and better benefits. That, in turn, will allow field providers to grow old in the EMS profession, contributing their expertise and experience rather than looking for better options.

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