No one stands still. If you're not moving forward, someone wise once said, you're really moving backward as others advance around you. In any career it's important to keep growing and improving. That's particularly true in EMS, which itself is advancing so rapidly.
What's the best next step for an ambitious practitioner to take? There isn't a universal answer. Systems differ greatly, and individual needs and capacities and circumstances do too. If you're an EMT, the road to paramedic still beckons, and perhaps a path to management beyond that. But that's not for everyone, and there are side roads aplenty worth exploring.
Assess your own goals and desires: Where do you want to be in 10 years? How about 25? And then what's the best way to get there? For those seeking a vertical ladder to climb, the answer could entail additional education, pursuing degrees or various certifications. Conversely, those intrigued by horizontal opportunities may choose to branch sideways into special functions (for instance, a special-ops, hazmat or public education unit). There are good reasons for both courses of career growth, and both offer a range of benefits.
The benefit to you: Knowledge is power. In EMS, it's the power to help people more effectively. That's why most of us get into the field. Building your career improves you as an emergency services practitioner. There's great satisfaction in knowing that. And of course, career growth often translates into increased financial rewards. Better educated and more experienced practitioners make better candidates for advancement. Bosses like to see employees who want to grow. And frankly, reality dictates that money is important too.
The benefit to patients: A patient has a cardiac arrest. Any practitioner who arrives to help them will follow their relevant protocol, but if you're that patient and all else is equal, whom do you want helping you, the practitioner with the additional ACLS certification, or the one without?
Or say there's a toxic spill. Whom do you want first on the scene, a practitioner who's trained in hazardous materials for just such an incident, or the regular EMT, however capable he may be, with no particular hazmat background?
All kinds of illness and injury can befall people, and while it's not possible to be an expert at everything, the more you learn and expose yourself to throughout your career, the better armed you'll be to help them.
The benefit to your organization: Elsewhere on this site are ideas for reaching out to your community and galvanizing support for EMS. The best way to do that is to provide superior care. Committed practitioners seeking to improve themselves and advance their careers offer the best possible reflection on their organization--which is ultimately supported by the community it serves.
The benefit to your community: With more practitioners that are more educated and more experienced, entire communities' health can benefit. Whole populations' rates of morbidity and even mortality can be positively impacted by committed practitioners committed efforts through committed organizations.
The benefit to EMS as a whole: Ours is still a young profession. As it grows into maturity, EMS needs not only excellent caregivers, but leaders to forge our path to tomorrow. Great paramedics don't always make great leaders, but broadening their knowledge base helps. The education and experience you seek today will, in its own small way, help build a better EMS for future generations.
Career options in EMS, as cynics used to put it, were limited to "the front of the bus or the back of the bus." That's not so true anymore. With the increasing breadth and complexity of prehospital medicine, opportunities abound for EMS practitioners to grow into new, expanded and exciting roles in serving their communities' needs. Learn about becoming a paramedic or EMS educator, EMS related degrees, and find additional resources to help you with your career in this section.