How I Got My Master’s Degree

Yesterday I graduated from Wilmington University with a master’s degree in healthcare administration.  It took three years to complete, over which our second child was born and I changed jobs, and would not have been possible without the support of my family.  I hope that sharing why I did this, how I paid for it, how I did it around shift work and family responsibilities, and the benefits of finishing will encourage others in EMS to pursue higher education.

I have been very lucky for a number of things throughout my career, and one of the luckiest was when WilmU began offering tuition-free classes to my service three years ago.  I finished my bachelor’s degree before staring paramedic school, and had wanted to go back for a while.  I have a variety of interests, thought, and was not sure which to focus on for a master’s.   When the scholarship from WilmU was announced, I discovered that their healthcare administration program touched on all of them.  Half of the classes were from the business school and the other were from the college of health professions, and I was able to do many of the assignments on EMS issues.  One of my bosses taught Analysis of Decision Making, and for my final project I redesigned our EMS system.  I wrote papers about Vidacare and the EZ-IO, the Florida ambulance service that was sued for a birth injury, sovereign immunity and paramedic-initiated refusal cases, the Kansas City Fire Department takeover of MAST, and marketed a community paramedic program.  For my thesis, I examined how often ALS was requested for seizure calls triaged for a BLS response under MPDS.

For the school’s scholarship, each semester I submitted a request for the classes I wished to enroll in.  I also received a $2000 scholarship from NAEMT, which covered most of two classes.  I ended up leaving the service when I had two classes left to teach at a community college.  There I became eligible for tuition reimbursement at non-state schools at the community college rate, which covered about half of a graduate class at WilmU.   Books were not covered by any of the scholarships.  I bought older editions for many of them on Amazon, and sold them for nearly the same amount after the class.  Some books I was even able to get from the library.  With some luck and budgeting, I was able to finish without a student loan.

The classes were held in 8 week blocks, and most were online.  Most semesters I took one class, over fall, spring, and summer, and took two over the semesters after I received the NAEMT scholarship.  Each week there was assigned reading from a textbook and posted articles, and a discussion board assignment based on the reading.  Each student was required to start a thread and reply to three classmates’ threads.  Most classes also required a 2-5 page paper each week, and a 10-12 page paper for the final project.  I could have completed the entire program online, but chose to take one hybrid and one face-to-face class that looked interesting.   Both had fewer writing assignments than the online classes, and I found the online classes to be more rigorous.

Most of my time in the program I worked on a two-day, two-night, four-day off rotation. I did a lot of work during time between calls, and wrote a few papers and discussion board posts on the truck’s laptop.  I jumped on the computer as soon as my children went down for a nap on my days off.  I was usually too tired after the day shifts to focus on writing, so some days I got up at 5 AM to do school work for an hour before going in.  Since I had a difficult time falling asleep the first nights home after a tour, those nights I stayed up late to write.  Assignments were due each Sunday night, so there was extra juggling when my night shifts fell on weekends.  I began a Monday through Friday schedule when I started teaching.  While the hours were more predictable, there was no more time between calls to do school work.  I had one class and my thesis to finish, and there were several late nights and early mornings towards the end.

When I started, there was no pay increase or promotion after obtaining my degree.  I had no intention of leaving the field, but wanted to learn more and be prepared for the changes coming to EMS.  The work helped me critically analyze problems, finish assignments quickly, become a better writer, and prompted me to change my opinions about some things.  For the first time in a long time, I had deadlines that needed to be met for assignments.  After answering calls for 13 years, this was a good warmup for the lesson planning, test writing, and grading that I do now.  I have a much deeper knowledge base about the healthcare system, and can tie the need to justify value for treatments into my lessons.  I also apply what I learned about presentation and motivation in the business classes to my teaching style.

EMS is changing so fast right now, from advances in resuscitation to community paramedics, and it may not even be called EMS in ten years.  I believe that higher education for today’s leaders to navigate these changes.  The hospitals in my area are very generous with scholarships and tuition reimbursement for their employees, and EMS services are starting to catch up.  If your service does not do this, ask or find one that does.  Scholarships are also available from national, state, and local EMS associations.  You can also approach area schools about starting  a program like Wilmington’s.

High quality higher education can be done online, around shift work, and without going deeply into debt.  It is not easy, but I believe it is worth it.



  1. Skip Kirkwood says:

    Congratulations on this terrific achievement. You’ve done a good thing for good reasons, at great personal sacrifice. It will serve you well.

  2. Bob, Congratulations!

    Although your kids may not remember when you were in school you have set a great example for them on essential life skills of planning, determination, and follow through. Well done.

    I have strong feelings about the danger of debt, especially for an advanced degree. You were wise to
    “With some luck and budgeting, I was able to finish without a student loan.” All of your cost savings tips I am sure will be helpful to others.


  3. emspatientperspective says:

    Thanks so much, hat means a lot coming from you both. I believe we are all Dave Ramsey fans as well, and I used his recommendations on how to go back to school with out borrowing money.

  4. This post gave me a little hope for trying to do the same myself one day. I only just finished my associates, but I have been eyeballing the distance bachelor’s program at George Washington Univertisty for a little while now. I do however find myself in a bit of a squeeze for money with a new baby, and we would by far prefer to not go into quite that much debt. Thank you for your post and congratulations!

    • emspatientperspective says:

      Thanks Will. I would not recommend going into debt for a degree. You may be interested in the online bachelor’s program in allied health that my school offers. I know a lot of paramedics in my area have done it, and it would cost less than GW. Good luck!


  1. […] accomplishment was finishing my master’s degree in healthcare administration form Wilmington University.  During that three-year process our second son was born and I changed […]

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