The Almost Medics: The 2,400 Stalled Texas EMS Students
Sierra Hayes had entered the final stretch of her paramedic program. She would soon graduate, promote, and progress in her career as a rural paramedic.
On March 13th, her program was suspended due to COVID-19.
“I understood. But I still grieved,” said Hayes. “It’s frustrating to be so close and know you can’t help your community as a paramedic.”
Hayes is one of an estimated 2,400 Texas EMS students halted in their programs. Many were down to only weeks of training before entering the workforce.
“Many of my classmates had jobs waiting,” said Hayes. “They were treating paramedic school as their full-time job and earning limited income. It’s complicated our future.”
The program delay is expected to cost Hayes almost $10,000 in lost earnings due to a delayed pay raise. If the delay is prolonged, she could lose over $40,000 this year.
On March 23rd, Governor Greg Abbott waived regulations to create provisional licenses for graduating nurses in anticipation of an expanded healthcare workforce.
This raised a reasonable question:
Are provisional certifications available for the 500 paramedic and 1,900 EMT students stalled in Texas EMS programs?
Consulting the EMS Education Experts (TAEMSE)
“The largest barrier for these students is course completion,” said Michelle Prescott. “It’s not as simple as waving a few requirements.”
Prescott is the co-founder of the Texas Association of EMS Educators (TAEMSE), the statewide expert on Texas EMS education.
“Very few programs are on track for course completion,” said Prescott. “Very few clinicals are still occurring. Those that are proceeding are mostly using an employer as a clinical site.”
Course completion is a non-negotiable prerequisite for the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
During a pandemic, however, course completion is complex.
“The majority of the programs are transitioning to online didactic courses,” said Prescott. “Face-to-face activities are being conducted in groups less than ten. It’s a learning curve for all instructors. Clinical space, however, is limited.”
Clinical space is the most complicated part to the course completion process.
Almost all clinical sites have restricted student access in order to preserve PPE and reduce exposure to COVID-19. Even the TAEMSE board of directors recommends that all clinical activity cease to mitigate exposure.
On March 30th, DSHS revealed that a 90 day provisional EMS certification had been requested. If approved, it would allow course completed students to practice on the ambulance with medical director approval.
The 2,400 Texas EMS students will still be ineligible without assistance.
“We need avenues to assist these students with course completions,” said Prescott. “We want them to finish. We either need adaptations to the rules or the resources to produce graduates.”
The Waiting Workforce
“I had this very structured and bullet proof plan,” said Hayes. “I’m now relying on the school, state, or medical directors to tell me my next step.”
Hayes intends to pick up overtime to fill her newly opened schedule. Serving her community as a rural EMT is one thing that isn’t out of her control.
“The thing that hurts most is the wantingness to help,” said Hayes. “It hurts knowing that you’re trained but haven’t met all the requirements to officially help.”
The 2,400 Texas EMS students could be significant additions to the Texas EMS workforce during COVID-19 operations.
ATEMSP encourages all leaders, legislators, and reporters to contact TAEMSE for greater detail about the Texas EMS education system.