A Comprehensive Approach to Continuing Education

End the discrimination against administrative & support staff

Paramedics, EMTs and medical first responders are all required to undergo continuing education. The legal motivation is to keep their licensure or certification current. The organization motivation is to make sure that those who provide patient care are competent in the treatment of common and less commonly-seen clinical problems. Continuing education classes also provide the organization a mechanism to update personnel on new concepts, innovations, equipment, policies and protocols.

A universal benefit

The personal motivations for embracing continuing education and professional development can range from remaining eligible for keeping their job and a sense of personal pride and professionalism to upgrading knowledge and skills toward higher levels of performance, certification and promotional opportunities. The benefits of to all parties–the community, patients, EMS organization and the employee are readily apparent.


Given such clear benefits to continuing education, it’s unfortunate that many, if not most, EMS organizations all but discriminate against their administrative and support staffs by not also offering or requiring continuing education in their fields of endeavor. Although the legal motivation to do so may not be there, the organizational and personal motivators certainly should be. Many of the positions in your organization are associated with their own professional organizations.


For example, the quality managers can tap into the incredible resources and even professional certification programs offered by the American Society for Quality (www.asq.org). Similar programs are available for fleet mechanics, accountants and human resource managers. There are several options for the management team. Some are specific to EMS, such as the National EMS Management Association(www.nemsma.org). Some are specific to healthcare, such as the Association College of Healthcare Executives (www.ache.org). Others are not industry specific, such as the American Management Association (www.amanet.org).


Don’t leave the medical director out of this. They will have continuing education requirements to maintain credentials in their chosen medical specialty. But even if they’re an emergency physician, those requirements don’t really encompass their roles and responsibilities as EMS physicians.


That is starting to change as the new EMS physician sub-specialty board certification process comes online over the next few years, but the needs and benefits of having your medical director participate in EMS-specific continuing education and professional development can help them and your EMS organization right now.

Consider the scope

If you agree that continuing education and professional development is good not only for field staff, but also for administrative and support staff, consider a more comprehensive approach to the scope and design of your organization’s continuing education program.


Look for professional organizations associated with the various administrative and support staff job descriptions inside your organization. Consider supporting employees in acquiring memberships and participating in the continuing education and development programs from their respective professional associations. That can be much less expensive and far more effective than trying to develop classes on your own for the billing and accounting staff, for example.


The more challenging issue is developing continuing education and professional develop programs for positions not connected with a professional association. Consider developing a customized approach based on what those employees think would be appropriate. There may education modules from some of the other professional associations that can be drawn upon. One idea is to start a direct reading or video program with relevant articles and videos followed by a discussion session, similar to a journal club. That can be a reasonably cost-efficient way to start.


Imagine the janitorial staff watching videos on the latest in industrial and healthcare cleaning processes and infection control methods. Fleet mechanics might be reading, watching and learning about the latest innovations in vehicular data systems. The accounting staff could be learning about the principles of activity-based costing and the getting the updates on the latest version of their accounting software. Your medical director might be learning about frequent EMS user mitigation programs and the wide range of medical oversight issues that need to be considered before implementation. Senior management staff may be learning about writing pragmatic vision statements and how to connect them to strategic planning and annual budgeting processes. Middle managers could be drilling into the details of project management and how to use such tools as Microsoft Project.

Make it mandatory? 

As you think this through, the subject of mandatory vs. optional participation is likely to come up. The mandate for continuing education for clinical staff is a direct result of a regulatory effort to reduce the potential for poor care due to lack of appropriate education and use of outdated methods. It would seem that inappropriate approaches and use of out-of-date methods in accounting, fleet maintenance, cleaning and restocking processes, or adult education curriculum development would be of significant concern as well.


Admittedly, making anything mandatory has cost implications. The benefits must be weighed against the costs. Unfortunately, the costs of continuing education are often directly measurable–the benefits may not be. This is where judgment and true leadership from senior management becomes essential. This is where your organization’s vision and values statements may be tested.


Choose wisely. Your choice can have far reaching implications for your organizational culture and the overall quality of service you provide to the community you serve.

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