by Samantha Hilker, Hilker PSM
PAAW’s first podcast of the new year was scheduled with James Newlun, then EMS Section Chief for the Wisconsin EMS Office. The goal of the podcast was to facilitate a discussion with a representative of the State EMS office about staffing and what, if anything, could be done at a state level to help alleviate the burden services are feeling. As you may remember, PAAW mailed a letter to the state office outlining several concerns and potential solutions to the staffing shortage last year (you can read the letter here). Unfortunately, we were unable to secure an alternative representative from the state office as a guest after James announced his exit in late December, and the podcast was subsequently canceled. With the Section Chief role vacant the day to day duties are keeping those remaining at the state office quite busy, and they were unable to provide a comment on the subject.
Without the opportunity to engage a representative of the state office, I engaged friends and colleagues across the country and combed through an endless number of articles about staffing in EMS published over the years. Specifically, articles about the difficulties EMS agencies are having when it comes to finding reliable, committed and loyal EMTs and paramedics. Although it feels as though this topic has consumed discussions over the past year in Wisconsin, the dates on the available articles reveal that finding the right people (or any people, in some cases) is not a new problem for EMS.
In September 2015, EMS Insider published an article in JEMS titled Critical Staffing Shortages that discusses the ongoing decline of volunteerism along with difficulty in retention due to the overall demands of the EMS profession. The article cites research done in North Carolina as early as 2008. Another interesting article published in June of 2014 is an editorial piece by Arthur Hsieh where he calls out the lack of a real identity for the EMS industry as the leading cause of recruitment and retention issues. If we don’t know who we are, after all, how do we go about convincing other people to join?
I’ve spent some time asking people who have voluntarily exited the EMS industry why they decided to leave. While this was not a scientific poll by any means, the answers I received came from across the country as well as right in our own backyard; some I know personally as well as some I have never met in person. The low rate of pay was the most common answer I received while working conditions including the length of shift, the state of equipment, condition of quarters and the ability to get along with their co-workers was a typical answer as well. Supportive leadership, or lack thereof, was comfortably third in the ranking of most common responses right along with a lack of advancement opportunities. Many of you reading this, I am sure, are not surprised by this information. So then, how do we fix it? What can be done to stop, or at least slow, the leak?
It may be time to get creative with staffing in EMS instead of relying on the same practice to yield different results. The days of long-term employment, it seems, have been replaced with habits of “job hopping” as the newer generations begin to enter the workforce. Maybe we are asking too much or setting our expectations too high regarding the length of employment. In a recent article on Business Insider by Becky Peterson lists the average period of employment for the 10 biggest companies in tech and the highest is just over two years even though many of the dissatisfiers identified by EMTs and paramedics are not present. Perhaps the best way to keep employees on your roster for longer is to provide them a career path that can be laid out for them on day one of orientation; show them you believe in their future at your organization, and maybe they will believe in it, too.