It began with a desire to bring a group of people from multiple EMS locations throughout the world together with a common goal: to create an international, strategic plan for promoting the EMS profession. The result was the birth of a concept, International Paramedic (iParamedic), an open-source, worldwide forum for discussion and recommendations about critical issues affecting EMS practitioners.
Unlike other EMS associations, iParamedic exists solely as a virtual entity. Members participate through conference calls, webinars and other communication methods. Despite the name, the organization is open to all EMS practitioners, not just paramedics. Membership is free.
International Paramedic describes itself as a “cooperative, consensus-building organization of participants who share their voice, time and energies in ongoing and collaborative efforts involving paramedic and emergency medical response capabilities, practice, education and research.” The goal of iParamedic is to develop the body as a valued presence as an international voice for EMS within such key organizations as the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
“The open, free-flowing conversations will be defined and directed by the participants,” says Matt Womble, EMT-P, primary care systems specialist at the North Carolina Office of Rural Health and Community Care, and one of the founding members of iParamedic. Womble admits the idea sounds a bit unwieldy, but he believes that the connections exist to make the program work. “The potential is huge,” he says.
The G5 Summit
The genesis of iParamedic began April 2011, with a small group of EMS leaders from Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. The group gathered in Ottawa, Canada, at the behest of Gary Wingrove, director of government relations and strategic affairs for Mayo Clinic Medical Transport in Rochester, Minn., and Michael Nolan, MA, Dip. Ed, CCP(F), chief of paramedic service and director of emergency services for the County of Renfrew in Pembroke, Canada.
Wingrove and Nolan decided in early 2011 to use their contacts—Wingrove as immediate past president of the National EMS Management Association and Nolan as the president of the EMS Chiefs of Canada—to identify and invite an international group of people who hadn’t worked together before, from a variety of backgrounds, including academics, administrators, practitioners, journalists and regulators. “We looked for people who had a diverse background, were not necessarily in positions of authority, but who are known to Gary and me to have specific influence in other spheres,” says Nolan.
The hope of the organizers was that the variety of opinions would generate new, exciting ideas. “Part of my goal was to bring a group like this together and see what was possible,” Nolan says. “It’s a pretty grassroots approach.”
Nearly every person invited to attend was able to participate in the April meeting, most of them at their own expense. The agenda for the G5 Strategic Planning Summit was set around two primary questions: What was common among all the different players and where were the opportunities to advance areas of common interest?
For two days, the 18 members of the G5 discussed policy development, naming conventions and common lexicon within the industry. The key for Wingrove and Nolan was to keep the end goal open, so the group could decide on the final outcome. “We created a space and allowed it to be filled by intelligent, well-intentioned people,” Nolan says. The outcome was iParamedic.
“With the creation of International Paramedic, we have demonstrated that it worked,” Nolan says. “International Paramedic has become the ‘brand,’ if you will, to continue the work of the G5.” He says that the potential for the creation of iParamedic allows for the extension of the G5.
Nolan was especially impressed with the depth of the discussion and the respectful nature of the participants despite the lack of structure. “It’s fair to say that it was a magical experience,” he says. The consensus was that they’d just been part of something significant.
“It exceeded my expectations,” says Womble, who helped bring up the idea for iParamedic to the G5. The original concept was formulated during a drive to the airport from an International Round Table on Community Paramedicine meeting in Colorado. Although there was some initial enthusiasm, the concept never gained traction. Womble says the idea was still in the back of his head when he arrived at the G5 meeting. That group, he says, provided the right minds to help germinate the seed that had been planted in Colorado.
What Makes This Different?
“The key to the iParamedic is there are no ulterior motives or boundaries on the agenda other than the collective consciousness,” Womble says. In other words, don’t expect any fundraisers, membership drives, staff or voting protocols. There are no membership fees, and financial support will be donated by participants or organizations choosing to support iParamedic directly or provide any kind of donations of services.
“What I’m most excited about is that it has become a conversation and a relationship rather than an organization or association. It is an organic community, not a formal organization—an auditorium where people can collect and discuss,” he says.
Forums will act as sounding boards. Agencies can get feedback from other systems around the world, and data can be shared for research. White papers can be published to provide professional advocacy on a global scale. “We have to do it collectively, not independently of each other,” Womble says.
The unstructured nature of iParamedic is reflected in its logo. Womble says it’s a symbolic representation of the Star of Life. Each color represents one of the following: communication, collaboration and consolidation of ideas.
Creating Common Ground
One of the challenges the G5 faced was how to address the issue of nomenclature in EMS. Following the leadership of Paramedic Association of Canada, Paramedics Australasia, the International Roundtable on Community Paramedicine and others, the group decided to advocate for the adoption and common use of the following terms:
- Paramedic as the designation for the professional practitioner;
- Paramedic service as the provider of EMS staffed by paramedics, differentiating it from the other components of EMS systems, including public-safety communications practitioners, emergency room nurses and physicians; and
- Paramedicine as the discipline and the area of medical study and knowledge. The study and understanding of paramedicine must continue to be explored vigorously to understand the true impact, value and utility it has on the lives of the communities it serves.
It was agreed that the term “paramedic” must come to include all practitioners, from basic to ALS responders. “We moved toward “paramedic” as a common identifier for people who provide paramedic services,” Nolan says. “While there are varying levels of certification, from primary care paramedic to critical care paramedic, there is significant value when working with the government and community in identifying people who provide this critical service.”
It was noted in the discussions during the G5 meeting that the term “paramedicine” is already in use in Europe and refers to healthcare professionals, such as dentists or respiratory therapists. Nolan acknowledged that some work would be required in this area, but he’s confident that iParamedic will address the issue and find a satisfactory solution. “If we are going to truly advance the profession, we must find a common language around the world, so we can effectively communicate and brand our services within our communities,” he says. JEMS
This article originally appeared in November 2011 JEMS as “International Exchange: Virtual association creates worldwide forum for EMS dialogue.”