Step 2: Decide If You're Ready
Lets look at some of the intrinsic/extrinsic factors which will assist you in deciding if this is the right choice for you.
• Basic Eligibility- You are in a position of trust. Whether a volunteer or career paramedic, you will need to undergo some type of background check. In other words, if you have felonies on your record you can stop here.
Remember, you are in a position where people are usually at their most vulnerable and your superiors need to know you can be trusted. What you will be able to do depends on what type of background check you undergo.
At a minimum, expect to be fingerprinted and have an FBI print check. Because of federal work I have undergone what’s called a “public position of trust” background. For this, they go back several years and look at you in details. In this day of electronic media: Twitter, Face Book and other forms of social networking you need to be careful of what you post in terms of language, public political opinions, and pictures.
More than a few paramedics and firefighters have lost jobs due to what’s out there on the web, even when posted by someone else. In other words, keep it clean…don’t post anything out there you would not want your mother to know or be the headlines of tomorrow’s newspapers. As a practical exercise, do a Google search of your name. What you see is what a hiring authority will see at the very least. They will learn more, since they will probably run a more extensive background check such as your credit status, your driving record, etc.
• Education- It helps to have some advanced schooling, although it’s not mandatory beyond your paramedic credentialing. Choose your schooling wisely. While the end results may be the same, the path you took may need to travel could be entirely different.
If I’m looking at two candidates, one from Joe’s Chicken Shack and Paramedic School vs. Neptune University – where I know you learned in a strong program with an excellent track record of clinical – guess who gets the job? Be smart when choosing your schooling…look at more than just cost. If you have a degree and want to add paramedic credentialing to that, there are many community colleges who offer either a certification program or a two year degree. In my opinion, more education is always a good thing!
• Foreign language Skills- Knowing a foreign language is a skill that cannot be underestimated. Of course, the value of this skill is usually location dependent. In my first job as an EMT for a major city fire department, I was only the third Hispanic medic ever hired in a city with a 30% or greater Hispanic population. It still amazes me that I did not meet my first Ethiopian or Korean medic until I was deployed for duty during Hurricane Katrina.
It’s only recently on another federal deployment that I met my first Indian medic. Unfortunately this is also a trend seen in the fire service as which tends to be very homogenous as well. I personally believe that we could do much more to cultivate a diverse medic community, but we will save that for my next article!
• Volunteer EMS Experience- As they say…just do it! Volunteering is a good way to get a flavor for this line of work and determine whether you are right for this type of work.
Many departments may even pay for you to attend school, asking that you commit to serving their community for a number of years in return. Keep in mind is that many times these positions are a springboard to a permanent job in that department or in local jurisdictions.
One thing to consider is the time commitment necessary to stay proficient and up to date. Some locations are very loosely structured in that regard while some have very stringint requirements. An inherent issue with EMS in the country is the lack of standardization in education and requirements to ride. What you do in Pennsylvania may not transfer to Maryland.
With that said, the experience that you’ll gain as a volunteer as well as the training is invaluable when applying for paid job. Also, becoming a paramedic does not mean you are relegated to an ambulance. When considering becoming a volunteer, be truthful to yourself and family. If you can’t devote the needed time each week to complete the initial training and work your duty hours you may want to reconsider.