7 Ways to Improve EMS Education and Retention

Emergency medical service (EMS) providers are critical but are sometimes overlooked in the healthcare industry. EMS teams have an enormous responsibility and face some of healthcare’s most stressful environments during which every second counts.

As a practice, EMS care was born out of the need to improve outcomes of ill and injured patients. EMS professionals provide care using a wide variety of models in almost every care setting imaginable. They are an absolute necessity to any and every community, hospital, and health system — impacting the entire continuum of care for patients of all ages and conditions.

EMS education and training has been a routine part of both hospital and health systems operations for decades, yet healthcare leaders often fail to change their current practice. But improving EMS education can have significant impacts on patient safety, staff development, and cost savings. Below are seven ways healthcare leaders can improve EMS education and retention.

1. Get Involved in Your Retrieval Team’s Protocol Development

Transport teams are tasked with retrieving sick and unstable patients and getting them safely to the appropriate specialty care unit. By ensuring a solid retrieval team protocol is in place, managers can have a hand in patients’ treatment prior to arriving at specialty centers. The protocol might include having the retrieval team ensure patients have a proper IV if necessary, etc. Ultimately, this helps ensure your staff is delivering patients in a stable condition, ready to be treated.

2. Expand EMS to Additional Units/Floors

EMS is a routine part of any emergency room environment, providing enhanced skills and procedures which allows nurses and physicians to focus on existing patients. However, healthcare workers on other units can greatly benefit from what EMS offers as well such as the PACU, ICU, and telemetry unit. By increasing EMS presence across other units, nurses and physicians have additional patient safety support, where they perhaps hadn’t before.

Hospital leaders can also better leverage EMS capabilities by partnering with community paramedicine programs, which can help drive better patient outcomes and reduce hospital readmissions through early follow-up and intervention.

3. Bring EMS Education In-House

Hospitals and health systems often outsource EMS education and training, while providing all other care and compliance education in-house on a single learning management system. Having EMS training in-house can improve efficiency, decrease costs, ensure compliance, and enable providers to stay certified while minimizing non-productive time. Routine CPR training, for example, is important for healthcare workers. Because CPR is a skill not often used, frequent training is necessary to keep the required skillset top of mind. Having this training available in house, available for all staff is an incredibly convenient benefit.

4. Provide Recertification and Training Reminders

While EMS recertification and education deliverables and deadlines ultimately fall on the EMS provider to meet, a reminder never hurts. Especially if EMS education is brought in-house, healthcare leaders can engage with EMS providers and support them meeting recertification and other training opportunities on time, promoting a culture of trust and accountability.

5. Share Clear, Concise, and Transparent Information

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, EMS providers have encountered constant changes to protocols and procedures. Providing updates on protocols in a timely and effective fashion is key — and EMS providers’ ability to care for patients in the safest way possible depends on receiving clear direction. Transparency into why a best practice is advised can also promote provider buy-in, especially given the growing amount of misinformation shared via social media on COVID-19 vaccines, etc.

6. Promote Meaningful Recognition

Most healthcare workers (physicians, nurses, physical therapists, etc.) typically spend a lot of one-on-one time with patients. Through this care model, those healthcare workers have an opportunity to connect with and feel appreciated by their patients. For EMS providers, however, this isn’t always the case, as their time with patients is generally shorter, and the patients they care for aren’t typically in the condition to have the time/energy to express gratitude. They also rarely see their patients again after dropping them off at a hospital.

But EMS providers still need and appreciate the thanks, making it important for healthcare leaders to take the time to recognize them for going above and beyond. Hospital leaders can easily implement a recognition program to show gratitude for those paramedics going above and beyond (notes of thanks, recognition board, movie tickets, etc.) EMS Week held every May is a great opportunity to show appreciation. Studies have also shown that meaningful recognition can reduce burnout in healthcare workers.

7. Create an EMS Retention Plan

According to a recent study by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, there are three reasons why EMS professionals choose to leave the profession:

  • Compensation
  • Educational advancement
  • Job dissatisfaction

Many respondents reported they would likely return to the profession even after leaving. But the NREMT study hypothesized that EMS providers who leave the profession would be unlikely to return, mainly because they earned higher degrees, leading to better jobs.

First responders are quitting EMS even as the field and EMS roles continue to grow. The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports “employment of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics is projected to grow 6% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.” If this is the case, healthcare leaders need to understand what’s leading paramedics to quitting EMS.

An effective EMS retention plan should include encouraging your field providers to set professional EMS goals. Prioritize the goals and help your staff succeed. Here are some ideas to create an EMS retention plan.

  • Offer tuition assistance to help with retention and filling open positions.
  • Encourage paramedics or EMTs without degrees to take one class at a time at their local community college.
  • Support first responders with associate degrees to work toward bachelor’s degrees.
  • Consider a field training program if a college degree is out of reach. These are motivational and easy to start.
  • Move your engaged people into management positions to enhance retention because the more training your field providers have the better care they can provide.

As you plan for the year, consider your organization’s education plans for staff. Take the time to include an education plan for every provider in your organization. Then, measure how education affected your EMS retention, recruitment, satisfaction and the overall level of care your organization provides.

How Distance CME Can Help

The need for EMS services is increasing, as are the associated costs to train staff. Reducing costs and scaling training is convenient and effective with Distance CME from Relias, a technology that provides a single, fixed cost for all required training needs. Distance CME provides live distance learning courses offering quality content and convenient education for busy EMS professionals, while eliminating travel complications during the COVID-19 pandemic. The system also reduces nonproductive time, costs such as overtime, and enables in-house training staff to maximize time with hands-on drills and skill sessions.

Distance CME classes meet the NREMT’s requirement for live (VILT) learning – 100% online, 100% live. Additionally, all 60 hours for paramedics and 40 hours for EMTs can be met with an easy to use learning management system and live class schedule toward National Registry re-certification.

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Scott McConnell

Clinical Solutions Partner, Founder Distance CME, Relias

Scott F. McConnell, RN, BSN, CEN, NRP, PHRN, is the Clinical Solutions Partner Acute for Relias and one of the founders of Distance CME, which recently launched a new learning platform. Since its inception in 2010, more than 35,000 providers worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings. He has been an EMS provider since 1991. First certified as an EMT-M in Pennsylvania, he has transitioned to an EMT-B, EMT-P, NRP and RN. He currently is a PHRN in Pennsylvania and runs at local squad PRN.

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