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More Ambulance Attendants are Needed to Come to the Rescue

An aging (and growing) population is placing increasing demand on ambulance services in North America. But government funding and other factors may affect employment opportunities. Ambulance attendants will have to keep their training current to take advantage of any emerging opportunities.

Ambulance attendants treat and transport sick and injured people. They are often trained as emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They provide first aid and pre-hospital services to patients in emergency situations.

Across North America, there are many volunteer ambulance attendants. These people gain valuable experience that helps them move into paid positions.

Many states require that their ambulance attendants be EMTs. Many of those hired with only basic first aid and CPR certificates receive on-the-job training to achieve EMT status.

"Trends I can see are the elimination of anyone who is not an EMT doing any kind of emergency care," says Bruce Cantrall. He is an EMT in Iowa.

"For very routine non-emergency transfers of patients from private homes and nursing homes to hospitals, some ambulance services create a wheelchair van that picks up and drops off these kinds of patients. This can be done with a van and an employee who has much less medical training. This is as close as a non-EMT ambulance attendant gets," says Cantrall.

David Johnston works with St. John Ambulance. He says opportunities for well-trained ambulance attendants will continue to grow. "The level of training they must have will also increase as new methods and equipment are brought into the field," he says.

Cherri Lynch is an emergency medical services (EMS) training officer. She sees an increase in opportunities for EMS personnel in the next few years. "It is a fairly new field that is expanding. And more research is being done to verify the medical benefits of pre-hospital care," she says.

Lynch says the more training a person has, the greater number of opportunities he or she will have. "I see very little expanse in the need for persons with no, or minimal, training on a paid service," she says.

Johnston says available jobs may not always be in the most desirable areas. "People will fight to work on city ambulances, but whoever doesn't get on will have to work in the rural areas for a smaller pay."

Cantrall says smaller towns and rural areas have mostly volunteer ambulance services. But that's likely to change.

"As the number of people in rural areas grows, and the population ages and needs more medical transportation services, many of the volunteer-only services may need to replace or supplement their volunteers with paid full-time or part-time employees," says Cantrall.

"I expect there will be a window where you could train as an EMT and go anywhere in the country and work if you wanted."

But there are many questions about whether government funding will keep pace.

"Medicare has a huge impact on our financial status. The cost of providing pre-hospital care is constantly increasing as new equipment and drugs are implemented, thus making us very reliant on a positive financial status," says Lynch.

"Government funding is a concern, but there are standards that have to be maintained and, as they are, the positions will remain and increase in certain areas. But it is too soon to tell what may happen," says Johnston.

This can be a very stressful job. Positions will become available as people leave the field.

Lynch speculates that this, combined with rural growth, could result in thousands of jobs opening up in the next few years. "One reason for this is the high rate of burnout in this field -- the average career of a paramedic is 10 years," she says.

Cantrall agrees. "I believe there is a pretty big turnover in the EMS field. People do it for a while and get burned out and then do something else," he says.

Lynch says constant advancements in the field mean ongoing opportunities. "The field of EMS will continue to expand and change as a result of this -- keeping the window of opportunity open for years to come," she says.

As opportunities in this field expand, so do the training programs.

Many services provide their own in-house training. But programs of varying lengths are also offered through colleges and universities, as well as organizations such as St. John Ambulance.

Ambulance attendants provide an essential service to a growing population. There should be an increasing number of jobs for those who have the necessary training and qualifications.


National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians
This site has a wide variety of EMT links and information on training programs

American Ambulance Association
Dedicated to serving the ambulance service community

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