If you haven’t heard, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, all EMS providers wanting to obtain a National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) national EMS certification at the paramedic level will need to successfully complete their paramedic education at an accredited program from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). This requirement has far-reaching repercussions. Programs, educators and medical directors can successfully master the accreditation process with the tools, practices and policies discussed here.
Letter of Review for Students & Programs
The letter of review (LoR) is designed to help protect the student’s educational future and the educator’s program. Programs currently accredited are listed at www.caahep.org, so students only need to check this list to ensure the school they choose meets the CAAHEP Standards and Guidelines. But what about the programs in the process of becoming accredited?
This is where the LoR comes in, attesting that a particular paramedic educational program is “in process” of becoming accredited. As long as a program possesses the LoR at any time during a student’s enrollment, its students are eligible to take the NREMT paramedic national certification exam. To receive the LoR, a program must submit a self-study report, as well as all the requisite fees and materials.
The self-study report is reviewed to ensure the core information is complete and appears to meet the Standards. If so, the LoR is issued; if not, the self-study report is rejected, and the LoR isn’t issued. However, possession of an LoR doesn’t guarantee accreditation. CAAHEP.org contains details about the accreditation process and a link to programs that hold an LoR.
Site Visitor Jitters
Minimizing or completely avoiding the anxiety related to the site visit portion of the accreditation process is possible. The site visit simply allows peer reviewers to visit the educational facility and review all aspects of the program. The site visit team interviews the program director, medical director, faculty, advisory committee members, program graduates, students, and field and clinical preceptors. Student records, classroom and laboratory space, and equipment and supplies are evaluated to ensure compliance with the CAAHEP Standards.
An “unofficial” report about the visit is left with the program, and the “formal” Findings Letter (FL) issued by the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the. Emergency Medical Services Professions (CoAEMSP) soon follows. The program is expected to begin correcting deficiencies contained in the FL and meeting specific deadlines to ensure progress is measured. Progress reports completed by the program demonstrate compliance with the Standards and allow for “in-flight corrections” over time. The site visit is also an opportunity for programs to demonstrate its strengths and share ideas with their peers (via the site visitors) for improving the educational process.
Below are some general tips for your site visit:
• Remember it’s a SELF-study. The program looks introspectively based on a national standard. At the end of this process, no one is more capable to discuss the strengths and limitations of the program than those who have participated in its construction. Take the time to learn, and pledge to improve the processes the program has in place to move you forward.
• Don’t expect perfection. Not a single paramedic educational program in the nation is perfect. Accreditation is a process of continual self-improvement and lifelong learning. If your program isn’t currently implementing a procedure, be sure you understand it, and then commit to making the necessary changes.
• Organize, organize, organize. One common insufficiency is the lack of adequate documentation. The CAAHEP accreditation process is designed to ensure compliance with the Standards, which is demonstrated by evidence. Just as all EMS professionals document their efforts, so too must the program. If it’s not written down, it’s not being done to the degree that’s expected.
• Take a moment to catch your breath and smell the coffee. I am fond of telling educators that this is much like your annual physical exam. (No, you are not required to disrobe!) Programs often experience the same level of anxiety before a site visit that’s experienced before a physical exam. This anxiety isn’t productive; it’s just plain wasted energy. A program can only improve if it recognizes that a collegial, peer-review process is the key to accreditation. Keep in mind the end result: a better-equipped graduate of your program. Students, employers and patients all deserve it.
“Milk Carton” Medical Director
The involvement of the medical director is one of the most important aspects of any paramedic educational program. The ideal medical director is deeply involved in the educational process and is teaching, reviewing content, observing educational activities and testing students as a measure of exit-level competence.
How would your students answer if the site visit team asked, “Who is the medical director of your educational program?” or “How often do you interact with your medical director?” or “What types of activities is your medical director involved in with the program?”
If they answer, “I don’t know” to any of these, then you might have a “milk carton” medical director (the missing person photo on the side of the milk carton, for those not old enough to remember). Students should know their medical director and understand that they’re a vital component of their education, now and in the future. Ultimately, when a medical director signs off on students’ exit-level competence, they’re essentially stating that they wouldn’t hesitate to allow the graduate to provide care to them or a member of their family.
Accreditation of paramedic educational programs protects the students’ investment in their education. It ensures solid and consistent educational programs. The result is assurance that the American public will receive the competent care they deserve.
CoAEMSP works under the auspices of the CAAHEP.