NEMSAC Discusses Strategy for Requiring College Degree for EMS Providers

On December 1 and 2 the National EMS Advisory Council (NEMSAC) met in Washington, DC. The NEMSAC is a nationally recognized council of 25 appointed EMS representatives and consumers that provide advice and recommendations regarding EMS to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Interagency Committee on EMS (FICEMS).
Representatives from the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) regularly attend and participate in NEMSAC meetings to ensure that the interests of the volunteer EMS community are heard. In addition, a representative from volunteer EMS is one of the appointees to NEMSAC. Currently, Katrina Altenhofen, a volunteer paramedic since 1989 and a founding member of the West Chester First Responders in Washington, IA, sits on the NEMSAC.
NVFC staff participated in a meeting on December 1 of the NEMSAC’s Provider and Community Education Subcommittee, which is in the early stages of developing a draft recommendation on a “Strategy for Transition to Formal Education as a Credential of EMS Providers.” Based on discussions at the meeting and a brief written overview that was distributed beforehand, the principal arguments for establishing a post-secondary education requirement for EMS providers are achieving parity with other allied health professions, expanding the depth and breadth of knowledge of providers through formal education, realizing greater peer and public recognition, and higher wages.
NVFC staff made it clear to the subcommittee that the NVFC opposes making holding a college degree a requirement for obtaining a license to practice as an emergency medical technician. On December 2 during public comment session, NVFC staff expressed the following concerns regarding establishing a national guideline or requirement that EMS providers must obtain a college degree:
  • There is no evidence that requiring EMS providers to obtain a college degree will improve patient care;
  • Requiring a college degree for EMS providers would increase training/education costs significantly;
  • Recruiting and retaining volunteers is hard enough already; requiring post-secondary education for EMS providers would essentially eliminate non-college degree holders from the ranks of potential volunteer EMS recruits;
  • Before any strategy is adopted a thorough cost-benefit analysis ought to be done to ensure that potential improvements to patient care are worth the added cost and potential staffing shortages;
  • The subcommittee should clarify whether the goal is to require EMS providers to have a college degree or to receive EMS training and education through a college or university.
During discussion by the subcommittee and full NEMSAC on this topic, consensus on several items appeared to emerge:
  • A post-secondary education requirement would not apply to all levels of EMS providers;
  • A post-secondary education requirement for EMS providers is a long-term goal that is unlikely to be achieved in the near future;
  • Attention must be paid to ensure that there is no negative impact on volunteer EMS.
NEMSAC recommendations go to NHTSA and/or FICEMS, which may implement them in whole, in part, or not at all. NEMSAC recommendations have no force of law and because EMS is regulated by the states rather than by the federal government, NHTSA/FICEMS are extremely limited in their ability to implement changes directly. 
The NEMSAC meeting on December 1-2 was only the second since the new Council members were appointed for two-year terms by the Transportation Secretary earlier this year. All of the subcommittees are still in the very early stages of developing recommendations. The next NEMSAC meeting will be April 18 and 19, 2016, in Washington, DC.