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In addition, prerequisites are required for any admission to a paramedic program. A student must be an EMT-Basic (EMT-B) and take a course in anatomy and physiology (A&P) prior to admission to a paramedic training program. The new national standard curriculum will allow for the EMT-B and A&P course to be rolled into the paramedic program.
When it is all said and done, including the competencies and prerequisites, the new national standard curriculum defines minimum subject matter for a new program to average 1,000 to 2,000 instruction hours. Many theorize that it will take two years or more to train a new paramedic.
Some training institutions around the country that are ready to kick off their new paramedic programs have been forced to double tuition, since they must cover their additional instruction expenses. It is predicted by critics of the new national curriculum that the cost of a paramedic program will keep many from entering a school, resulting in fewer paramedics graduating. Others contend that the rigors are stringent for a paramedic to graduate, resulting in a higher failure rate among those who can afford the program.
Then there is the impact on fire departments. No doubt, if a fire department operates an in-house training program, like Dallas, the time in the academy will be much longer, while the attrition rate among personnel in the field will probably remain the same as it was before the new curriculum came about. Still others contend that the impact of the new paramedic curriculum will be felt hardest among volunteer fire departments, where the cost and time to send someone to paramedic school will be prohibitive.
So why even change the paramedic curriculum? Those who favor the change contend the role that a paramedic performs today is quite different from years past. Paramedics today must be more knowledgeable since greater responsibility and burden is placed on them. More sophisticated medical equipment demands a more educated paramedic.
Years ago, a paramedic only had to know how to read a three-lead ECG. With the advent of new 12-lead monitor/defibrillators and thrombolytics, the new curriculum requires a paramedic to be able to interpret a 12-lead ECG and be knowledgeable of thrombolytic pharmacology. Other issues that have changed the perspective of the paramedic profession include expanded scope of practice issues, managed care and injury-prevention programs.
We know the new paramedic curriculum will push the profession forward educationally. The question is whether the new paramedic curriculum will advance the profession as a whole. Much needs to happen, including improved pay, more autonomy and more respect as a career from other medical professions. Only time will tell.
Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the chief paramedic for the St. Louis Fire Department and is the vice chairman of the EMS Executive Board for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He has lectured nationally and internationally on fire-based EMS topics and operates The Ludwig Group, a consulting firm specializing in EMS and fire issues. He can be reached at GaryLudwig@aol.com.