Verifiable and credible accreditation is the best protection for both students and the institution. This process is a shared responsibility between the national accrediting body, the educator, county and the state. I’ve asked my friend George Hatch, Ed.D, LP, executive director of the Committee on the Accreditation of Educational Programs for EMS Professions (CoAEMSP), to share some tips to overcome common pitfalls experienced when getting a program accredited. Even if accreditation isn’t your goal, these pearls of wisdom, which I’ve called “Hatch’s Hopes,” will help you be a better educator and run a better educational program. Beneath each are my suggestions (“Nollette’s Nuggets”) on how to apply these tips to your program.
1. Educators need education. Professionalism is more than doing the right thing—it’s about being the right person. The industry minimum is a Bachelor’s degree in a related field of study.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Becoming educated isn’t a nice thing; it’s the right thing. Leadership is a choice, not a position. Take one or two courses a semester to work toward your degree—you’ll have it done in no time.
2. No milk carton medical directors. Medical directors must be engaged and students must know who they are; too often they’re only a signature on a page.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Have the medical director chair your EMS advisory committee, participate in oral boards, work with faculty and oversee student clinicals. There are many meaningful ways to involve your medical director.
3. A 360-degree evaluation. Evaluate everything you do, collect data, pose questions and implement improvement. Medicine is ever-changing and without constant evaluations, educators are shooting in the dark.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Do a monthly evaluation on all components to include: didactic, lab, behavioral, clinical and field. Evaluate employers, past graduates, preceptors and clinical and field sites. Bring your program into the light of day and don’t be afraid to embrace your flaws—we all have them.
4. Get them road ready. Have a terminal competency document that outlines all requirements a student must have to complete your program.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Create accountability in your program. The medical director, program director and the core faculty should sign a terminal objective form that at minimum includes: all didactic classes, clinical and field skills, behavioral evaluations, credentialing cards and community service. If the student isn’t proficient in all of these areas, they won’t be a competent and compassionate entry-level professional.
5. Preceptors are your mentors. Educate preceptors to understand and embrace the adult learner.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Develop a preceptor training program. If you need help, contact a well-respected educator or mentor and let them share their preceptor program—then make it your own.
6. Track the student’s experience. Seat time doesn’t equate to good education. What did the student do? How did they use their skills and what was their success?
Nollette’s Nuggets: Invest in tracking software that collects and stores student experiences or create your own system. Assess which clinical and field sites give your students the best chance to see a variety of patients.
7. Build an active, vibrant and diverse EMS advisory committee. These committee members are the advocates of your program and they’ll keep you grounded on your journey to excellence.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Follow the format CoAEMSP has on its website. It includes the community, police, fire, hospitals, nurses, doctors, state officials, students, etc. Give student representatives the floor for the first 10 minutes to give an unvarnished and honest view of what’s going on in your program.
8. Pathways to a college degree. Link your education to higher education. Students should be able to receive college credit for lab, hospital and field work.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Collaborate with higher education institutions to make what the student has done in your class transferable.
9. Road map your program. Create a blueprint of student learning objectives and terminal program objectives, and map the student’s progress through the program.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Link your methods of instruction with your methods of evaluations. Build student learning objectives for all your classes and have program learning outcomes as a capstone. CoAEMSP has a matrix (i.e., a resource assessment spreadsheet) on their website that can be very helpful.
10. Be your program’s and student’s cheerleader and supporter. Educators must have the courage to do what’s right and defend the integrity of their program and our profession.
Nollette’s Nuggets: Adhering to national standards that protect the student and ultimately our patients isn’t always embraced by administrators, especially those who only watch the bottom line. Stay committed to your core values and the values of the profession. Legacies aren’t built on the work of the timid, but rather on those with vision and the courage to stand for what is right.