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Educating Paramedics for the Future: A Holistic Approach

Author: PETER F. O’MEARA, SUSAN FURNESS and RAY GLEESON
Published in JHHSA, Vol. 40 No. 2

The education and training of paramedics largely remains focused on an emergency medicine dominated curricula with limited attempts made to expand paramedic education to include primary care and public health topics that might better address the contemporary needs of practicing paramedics. In developed countries, paramedic roles and scopes of practice are changing in response to aging populations and the attendant prevalence of chronic conditions, advances in technology, changes in community expectations and broader health system challenges. The emergence of paramedic practitioner roles in a number of countries illustrates the impact of these social, technological and economic factors, and how paramedics are being integrated into the health systems of their respective countries.
Countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, have moved toward near-mandatory higher education models for paramedics. While three-year Baccalaureate degrees generally provide the scope and flexibility to introduce a wider range of studies in primary care and public health, they face the challenge of adding these topics to an already crowded curriculum. In countries without widespread access to Baccalaureate degrees in paramedicine the challenge of broadening the education of paramedics would appear to be near impossible within the constraints of relatively short entry-level programs.
This paper describes how an Australian university is responding to this challenge through the development of a four- year Bachelor of Paramedic Practice with (Clinical) Honours program. The paramedic program was initially encompassed within a suite of allied health courses in 2009 and provided students with the qualification of Bachelor of Health Science / Master of Paramedic Practice. Shortly after its inception, the course was reviewed against the future needs of students, industry and the community. Practice trends and the educational requirements of future entry-level paramedics were critically examined in Australia and internationally through literature reviews, conference attendances, direct feedback from the field, and overseas visits. As a result, the program was modified, and after further review, a new four-year paramedic program will be offered to commencing students in 2018.
The structure of the program will provide opportunities for students to gain skills and knowledge beyond that delivered in traditional paramedicine programs, including knowledge specific to primary health care and extended community paramedicine. These components of the program will allow for enhanced and flexible roles within communities and professional settings, and are responsive to calls for a holistic model of education to meet future paramedic role demands.

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