University of Phoenix unveils an industry-aligned health administration concentration for emergency services employees, including paramedics, EMTs, and first responders.
Being an emergency medical technician (EMT) is a difficult and stressful occupation. The constant exposure to life-and-death situations can lead to professional burnout, and results in an average EMT career ranging from seven to 10 years.
This situation is exacerbated by a general lack of professional development programs aimed at preparing prehospital emergency medical professionals who want to advance their careers beyond the front lines and prepare for future leadership roles in their organizations.
Emergency Medical Services Corporation (EMSC), a U.S. provider of emergency medical services, was all-too familiar with the situation and wanted to do something about it. "We recognized that there was a lack of professional development aimed at preparing EMTs and first responders for future leadership roles," says Kimberly Norman, senior vice president of human resources for EMSC.
EMSC and University of Phoenix were already education partners, so it seemed a natural extension of the relationship for EMSC to provide its expertise to help develop content for an emergency services management concentration in the university's bachelor of science in health administration degree program.
Specialists from EMSC's learning organization provided a rich framework for developing curriculum by suggesting topics and specific content, and helped to optimize the sequence in which courses were presented to give students a solid foundation in current emergency management issues.
For example, for a course on political and policy issues for emergency management, EMSC shared that it was important for students to understand the political policy process, who the stakeholders and advocates may be, and how contractual and regulatory decisions at federal, state, and local levels affect EMS preparedness and day-to-day operations. When senior executives say, "this is what I need my managers to know," and the university can build curriculum around it, it builds confidence that you're helping to prepare more effective managers.
"In the development of the curriculum, we put together a fairly comprehensive cross-functional team of leaders from within our organization and University of Phoenix educators," says Tom Wagner, regional CEO of American Medical Response, EMSC's healthcare transportation services segment. "What we did was really dissect what encompasses the different pieces of EMS management."
Launched in 2010, the enhanced concentration was designed to prepare EMTs, first responders, firefighters, and other emergency management personnel for future leadership roles, while expanding their knowledge and skills related to emergency management. The program focuses on principles of emergency management, managing emergency response operations, and planning and preparedness of emergency situations.
According to Norman, the program supports EMSC's commitment to make continuing education programs and ongoing professional development available to its team of 25,000 medical professionals and support staff. "The University of Phoenix educational partnership with EMSC, I believe, is the first of its kind in the industry and is really a selling point for us as we recruit talent to join our organization," she says.
Virtual organizations bring theory to life
Of course, a textbook can only give you so much knowledge. The rest comes from putting what you learn into practice. Working learners at University of Phoenix gain practical insights via virtual organizations, a learning platform developed to provide real-world experience in the classroom.
Taylor Ambulance Company, a virtual organization the university developed in conjunction with EMSC, provides students in the emergency services management concentration access to a simulated ambulance service company. All company information, including HR data and personnel situations, financials, facilities, and other resources, are available to allow a real-time application of classroom theories, concepts, and principles in a simulated emergency services environment.
Students can quickly translate their experiences to their current positions and more readily adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. According to Wagner, this adaptability is crucial in healthcare delivery.
"An educated workforce is absolutely necessary. Healthcare reform is driving pressures in our industry like we've never seen before, and we have to have a workforce that's able to adapt and able to innovate," he says.
From paramedic to regional CEO
Edward Van Horne is a strong advocate for advanced education for emergency services personnel and the education partnership between University of Phoenix and EMSC. Van Horne, who started out as a paramedic, earned his master's degree through University of Phoenix and leveraged the skills and knowledge he gained to advance in his organization. He is now regional CEO of EMSC's American Medical Response division.
"I felt I needed to have a post-graduate degree to advance in my career," he says. "And I was also thinking that if I ever wanted to transition from EMS work into hospitals or other arenas, I'd want to diversify my skills a little and have that MBA."
It was a challenge for Van Horne to find the time to pursue his educational goals while managing his career and personal life, but he embraced it. Pursuing the degree "taught me a lot about how to better manage my time and how to value it," he says.
Van Horne's new knowledge helped him to progress toward his personal and professional goals. He was soon a director of operations, and continued to rise to CEO of American Medical Response's south region.
An industry resource
Wagner sees the updated and industry-aligned curriculum as benefiting not just EMSC, but the entire emergency services industry.
"What I'm really excited about is taking it beyond just [American Medical Response] and EMSC to other EMS organizations across the United States," he says. "We're showing the industry the importance of education, and we're putting together the curriculum that gives the students real-world experience so when they graduate, whether they come to work for EMSC or whether they go to work for a competitor, they're still better prepared to serve the communities and to drive EMS forward."
The success of the program has not gone unnoticed. In the fall of 2011 University of Phoenix received the Bronze Award for Excellence in Academic Partnerships as part of Chief Learning Officer magazine's Learning in Practice Awards. The Excellence in Academic Partnerships Award recognizes accredited academic learning providers that have partnered with an organization in the past year to teach its employees about a key business issue.
Barry Feierstein is chief business operating officer for University of Phoenix. He says the university was "honored to be recognized for this innovative partnership with Emergency Medical Services Corporation, which not only provides educational pathways for those who protect us every day, but also helps build a better educated, competitive, and skilled workforce."