As news headlines show, emergency medical services (EMS) offer their communities on-demand mobile health care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Reflecting on the past few months, I continue to be awed by the impact of Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) as they responded to emergencies ranging from hurricanes, wildfires and opioid overdoses to the Las Vegas Route 91 tragedy.

“Rural EMS has traditionally operated in a “neighbor helping neighbor” model, often using volunteer providers.”

First response

These EMS providers, like their fellow practitioners across the country, serve with compassion and true professionalism. These are no “ambulance drivers” – EMS offers life-saving 911 response, life-sustaining inter-facility transfer and – increasingly – cost-saving, outcome-driven community paramedicine. This broad scope requires paramedics and EMTs to develop and refine skills spanning healthcare, technology and compassion in order to manage all that they encounter in the field.

Unfortunately, just as the importance and impact of EMS grows, ambulance services face the one-two punch of diminished reimbursement and a critical shortage of talent. In fact, in addition to the thousands of openings currently unfilled, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects career opportunities for EMTs and Paramedics to grow another 15 percent by 2026, far outpacing most other professions.

The shortage of EMS providers is of particular danger to our nation’s many rural communities. John Eich, Director of the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health, explains, “Rural EMS has traditionally operated in a “neighbor helping neighbor” model, often using volunteer providers. Tight-knit communities help each other. Unfortunately, the world has changed over the last 30 years – economic pressures are higher, resources are thinner and volunteerism has eroded. Rural EMS can no longer keep providing quality care on a shoestring, with a handful of volunteers that have other jobs and families needing their attention.” Our aging population and changing healthcare structure have also contributed to stretching the EMS system beyond its current capacity.

An evolving industry

With EMS agencies hungry for skilled providers, there has never been a better time to chart your career path in mobile healthcare. Most practitioners begin their careers as EMTs, opting to build their experience and expertise in the field before seeking the higher-level paramedic certification. Some continue from there by attaining additional credentials, sharing their knowledge as field training officers or joining the management team.

EMT and Paramedic training programs are available in every state in diverse settings ranging from private training centers to community colleges and universities. If you seek a career in a profession with noble purpose and great meaning, I encourage you to learn about the educational opportunities in your area. We honor those who have committed to the meaningful, fast-paced, mission-critical work that our EMS professionals do for our country every day.