May 12, 2020, Wilsonville, Ore.—Now more than ever, first responders with diverse backgrounds are needed for extraordinary circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic currently putting a strain on the state’s, and the world’s, health care systems. The Department of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech), which offers joint education programs with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), recently announced new scholarship opportunities designed to support underrepresented communities and help fill the ongoing need for qualified professionals. The initiative is in partnership with the AMR Foundation for Research and Education, to address the need to improve diversity among the EMS workforce.
The six newly announced scholarships are intended for underserved populations and recognize students who embody the university’s emphasis on inclusion, innovation and impact. Three $5,000 scholarships are designated for students pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree in Emergency Medical Technology – Paramedic education; and three $1,000 scholarships are directed toward students pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Emergency Medical Services Management, which are both offered at Oregon Tech’s Portland-Metro campus.
Recent studies, such as Females and Minority Racial/Ethnic Groups Remain Underrepresented in Emergency Medical Services: A Ten-Year Assessment, 2008–2017, published in the journal Prehospital Emergency Care, demonstrate that the EMS workforce is still largely male and white, and often fails to meet the minimum levels of diversity found in the communities that they serve.
Professor and program director of the Oregon Tech/OHSU EMS department, Jamie Kennel, said it is critical for the field of EMS to improve workforce diversity at all organizational levels.
“It’s imperative that as a university educating some of the top EMS providers in the country, that we are also held accountable for increasing the diversity of the workforce pipeline for EMS employers,” said Kennel. “We recognize that college can be an expensive investment, and we hope these educational scholarships help to reduce the financial barrier for Oregonians who have been excluded from a university education.”
The scholarships also recognize the research of professor Kennel, who published a study in 2018 identifying evidence of racial treatment disparities in Oregon EMS agencies. Titled Inequity 911: Under Treatment of Racial Minority Patients by Oregon EMS Agencies, the study was co-sponsored by the Oregon Health Authority’s Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Systems Program, and funded through the Oregon Office of Rural Health at OHSU. It also was recently published in Medical Care, a journal of the American Public Health Association.
A first-of-its-kind study in Oregon, Inequity 911 assessed the racial disparity present in medical treatments by EMS providers – emergency medical technicians and paramedics – when Oregonians called 911 for pain-related emergencies. Kennel and colleagues found evidence that EMS medical providers treated black and Asian patients with significantly less pain medication than white patients for comparable levels of pain and injuries.
With a mind to addressing this disparity by also addressing diversity in EMS professionals, Oregon Tech/OHSU EMS faculty applied for grants from the AMR Foundation for Research and Education, the philanthropic organization affiliated with the nation’s leading medical transportation company. The AMR Foundation graciously approved the grants and allocated the awards for the 2020-21 academic year.
Scholarships are broadly targeted at improving diversity in a number of ways, including:
- Racial and ethnic minorities;
- Individuals who identify as LGBTQ;
- First-generation in family to graduate from college;
- Individuals from low social-economic circumstances;
- Individuals who have geographic boundaries preventing their further education (rural settings); and
- Individuals who demonstrate financial need, and who otherwise may not be able to complete their EMS training.
Chris Hamper, faculty instructor and EMS scholarship lead at Oregon Tech, shared his enthusiasm for the partnership with AMR: “Our communities deserve an EMS response that represents the demographics of their community. The process of improving prehospital care for underserved populations starts with education. By decreasing the financial barrier to education for these individuals, we are providing employers the opportunity to recruit and hire a more diverse and representative workforce. In addition, a diverse classroom will provide all students the ability to learn and grow with peers from all backgrounds.
“EMS offers a unique opportunity for non-traditional students to positively impact the health of their community. In just two terms, a student with no prior college experience can earn a certification to work or volunteer for any EMS or fire response agency in the country. Many who take this first step will continue their education to become a paramedic, the highest level of pre-hospital care provider. While our time with students is short, we want to make it as impactful and life-changing as possible. In doing so, we are also improving the quality of care EMS agencies provide to the communities they serve.”