My BA and EMS: Part 1

On a recent EMS Garage episode, there was a great discussion about whether paramedics should get, or be required to get, a Bachelor’s Degree.

Not knowing what to do after high school, so I followed a quarter of my Catholic high school class mates down the street to Canisius College.  I was fortunate that my parents and grandparents were willing to pay for it.

Canisius is a Jesuit college.  The Jesuits are a Catholic order that formed after the Protestant Reformation, and set out to convert Protestants back to Catholicism.  Jesuits focus on question and inquiry.  They want followers to understand why they believe something instead of just being told to believe it, and their schools apply this to all subject areas.

I majored in Communication Studies and Psychology, and wrote articles for the school newspaper.  I liked most of those classes, but did not enjoy some of the core World History, Philosophy and English classes.  They did not seem relevant to any career I’d be interested in.  There was some boring material to read, research about things I didn’t care about, and long papers written late at night.

Like Russel Hybrid Medic Stine, I became an EMT in college. I went to work for a private company that went on 911 calls.  I was hooked from the first day, and realized that I could never be as excited about any other career.  Unfortunately that career came with a salary near the poverty line, which was why I stayed in school.

Much of my senior year was spent worrying about what to do after graduating.  Paramedic school would be an additional two years for a career with horrible pay and no career ladder.  The answer came on a spring break service trip in West Virginia.  During a retreat ten people sat on a large rock overlooking a mountain range in complete silence for five minutes.  In a moment of complete clarity, I decided to go to paramedic school and had faith that everything else would be figured out.  I did, and it was.

In EMS, we want things to be black and white. We want patients to fit a protocol.  We want them to be clearly stable or unstable.  We want a degree to equal better paramedics and more money.  It doesn’t work that way.  My degree did not automatically make me a better paramedic.  I was book smart well before becoming street smart.  Now that I am street smart, things I learned in history and philosophy classes helps me process complicated situations.  Reading, researching, and writing about uninteresting topics built a foundation to do them with my passion.

For EMS to evolve into a profession, we need tools to critically evaluate research.  We need to recognize when opinions are expressed as facts. We need to understand the right questions to ask, and be able to produce evidence that supports the answer.  We will earn respect this way, and eventually and more money.  To get there we need more education.


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