The phrase “national accreditation” often gives paramedic program directors the shivers, right? You might have been hearing this phrase a lot recently because national accreditation has created a buzz on the streets. That buzz has probably made paramedic program directors nervous, complete with sweaty palms and falling all over themselves to make sure everything is just right. But, is national accreditation worth it?
Myth: Paramedic Students Who Graduate From A Nationally Accredited Paramedic Education Program Perform Better On The National Certification Examination.
What We Know
For this myth, we’re going to look at the literature on national accreditation, which is supposed to ensure that programs that educate health-care workers are on the up and up. That doesn’t sound so bad. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s EMS Education Agenda for the Future called for the universal acceptance of national accreditation of EMS programs by 2010. It’s now 2011, so where are we?
Accreditation isn’t a passing fad; a search on the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) website reveals that 253 paramedic programs across the U.S. are nationally accredited. From Fairbanks to Fresno and Santa Fe to St. Pete, lots of programs are doing it.
How does a paramedic program become accredited? First, program directors should perform a self study, which allows them to identify areas of improvement in their programs. The self study is followed by a site visit from a member of the accrediting agency. After that, the site visitors will make their recommendation to the accreditation board.
Nearly 2,000 health programs from 22 health-care disciplines have been accredited by CAAHEP. This includes nursing programs, which have had accreditation standards in some form since 1893. After more than 100 years of accreditation, the nursing industry seems to find something worthwhile in creating national standards. But what exactly does the research show?
We were surprised to find little literature about national accreditation in other health-care professions. But this is because they’ve been nationally accredited for years, and don’t have a non-nationally accredited cohort for comparison.
After searching unsuccessfully for literature in other professions, our next step was to turn to our own. What does the EMS literature reveal about national accreditation?
In 2006, researchers evaluated 12,773 paramedic students and their success on the national certification examination.(1) The researchers found that paramedics who attended a nationally accredited paramedic education program had higher odds of successfully passing the exam. In EMS, we prefer things with better odds, so in this study, national accreditation scores a point with us.
The following year, another study looked at predictors of success on the national certification exam. When compared with the paramedic student’s high school class rank, highest level of education, gender, race and instructor credentials, attending a nationally accredited program was the highest statistically significant predictor of passing the national certification examination.(2) You guessed it:
Another point goes to national accreditation.
Finally, in a 2009 study, 12 paramedic program directors from high-performing paramedic education programs all over the country sat down to answer the question, “What specific strategies lead to a successful paramedic education program?” What do you think they said? You guessed it. Among their collaborative recommendations was achieving and maintaining national accreditation.(3) Yet again, we give programs more points for being nationally accredited.
What We Don’t Know
Unfortunately, we can’t view trends about the importance of national accreditation in similar fields because there isn’t much research out there on other allied health-care professions’ education programs. This restricts us in providing adequate information on literature to compare with literature from EMS. Further, limited research exists in EMS about national accreditation. However, all the available research points to national accreditation being an important step in advancing the EMS profession.
Verdict: Confirmed! According to the available research, paramedic students who graduate from a nationally accredited paramedic education program do perform better on the national certification examination.
Therefore, there’s no need to fear national accreditation. As EMS professionals, we constantly strive to provide the best for our patients, and it’s time to also strive to provide the best for ourselves. JEMS
1. Dickinson P, Hostler D, Platt TE, et al. Program accreditation effect on paramedic credentialing examination success rate. Prehosp Emerg Care. 2006;10:224–228.
2. Fernandez AR, Studnek JR, Margolis GS. Estimating the probability of passing the national paramedic certification examination. Acad Emerg Med. 2008;15:258–264.
3. Margolis GS, Romero GA, Fernandez AR, et al. Strategies of high-performing paramedic education programs. Prehosp Emerg Care. 2009;13:505–511.
This article originally appeared in March 2011 JEMS as “Credit Scores: Does program accreditation improve national exam results?”