Education in Economic Downturn
by Sherry Jones Mayo, RN, EMTP, DAAETS
Author of Confessions of a Trauma Junkie: My Life as a Nurse Paramedic
Contributing writer to Public Safety Degrees
When you decided to become a part of emergency services, did it ever cross your mind that your professional identity could directly relate to the economy? Those of us who grew up with TV’s Roy and Johnny saw emergency medicine as a noble, rewarding, and marketable professional goal, but today we may question those assumptions. Firefighter/Paramedic job security is failing, the minimum degree expectation for hiring is rising, and competition is at an all-time high.
How do you compete, and what are the next steps to ensure that you will be able to care for yourself professionally, your family financially, and your future securely?
Paramedics have struggled for years to establish themselves as professional, skilled clinicians, who deliver patient care in impossible situations and against almost insurmountable odds. We have gone from ‘load and go ambulance drivers’ to professionals that are part of the primary patient care system, but that is only the beginning. Peter O’Meara (2009) advises, “… the future development of the profession has been the progressive move from a vocationally based training system to university based undergraduate education, with Bachelor degrees as the entry-level qualification.”
Speak with any of your contemporaries and you will hear stories related to ‘going back to school’. The days of getting settled into a job and retiring at that same level 30 years later are gone. Aside from keeping current on professional practices and literature, we need to continue to grow and learn beyond mandated Continuing Education for licensure and certifications. Not taking that next step may cost you; rationalizations of why you cannot improve your education and marketability will decrease your competitive edge. Managing money, time, stress, academic challenge, and sheer exhaustion is not easy, but doable.
So what are your options?
Actually, they are almost limitless; we have more choices today than ever before. For those who wish to stay in direct patient care but come out of the uncontrolled environment of the streets, there are several options for becoming a registered nurse, including bridge programs for Paramedic to RN transition. For those whose professional exposure sparks a desire to handle crisis from a managerial perspective, there are bachelor and master’s degree programs in Emergency and Disaster Management, EMS Management, Public Safety Administration, Public Personnel Management, and Disaster Medicine Management.
Which one do you choose? Talk to your coworkers; ask if their networking includes anyone who has already completed a degree program in which you are interested for experiential insights. Perform online research to see what is required of each program, as some requirements may be far more (or less) interesting to you personally. Ask your employer about educational reimbursement; sometimes they will pay only if the program directly relates to your current job description. You also want to know about employer-paid maximum dollar amounts (and in what time period) for your educational compensation package.
Inquire about the fit of your desired degree program to your workplace or community structure. If you are debating between programs, talk to the university’s enrollment advisor (online programs have them, too), and include a conversation with the university’s financial advisor regarding student loan information if you will not receive an employer contribution. Network with local emergency management groups; they may offer personal and historical perspectives to gauge the need for the types of programs that interest you.
Your future depends on your marketability in an economic downturn. Do your homework. Find a program that suits you, and take control of your future before the economy or your lack of education makes that decision for you. This paramedic RN is completing an undergrad program (online, Bachelor of Science in Management) and will soon enter a graduate program (online, Health Psychology) which are hardly predictable degree programs, but evidence of innumerable choices. The road is far from easy, there are always challenges, but where will you be if you do nothing? I once had a coffee cup that provided daily motivation in addition to caffeine. It read, “Take charge of your life, you can do what you will with it.” And you can.