medic students ventilating a mannequin
This new "bridging" program will help existing paramedics complete a degree online.

New degree in emergency medical science at BCCC

Starting in Fall 2020, Beaufort County Community College is offering a bridge program for certified paramedics to earn an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Emergency Medical Science. The degree can be achieved online and can take as little as two semesters. BCCC administrators initiated the new program in anticipation of changes to current paramedic educational requirements in 2024.

“We are losing paramedics and potential paramedics to other healthcare professions,” said Billy Respass director of EMS programs at Beaufort. “There is shortage of paramedics across the state. Even through the level of training they receive is comparable to nurses, the pay is not, so North Carolina Office of EMS is working to increase educational requirements in order to change paramedic credentials from a certification to a licensure, hoping that will put paramedics on equal footing to other healthcare professions.” Paramedics earn between $15-$22 an hour.

Students currently enrolled in a paramedic class or certified paramedics will receive “credit for prior learning” through the program, giving them about one year of credit. The online program will include approximately two semesters worth of classes, including EMS-specific classes along with general education classes, though the program may take longer for students who are also working full time and cannot take a full course load.

EMS systems look for paramedics with degrees, especially for supervisory positions because it shows drive and commitment to the career. The new standards also come from research that has shown that patient outcomes improve with high levels of education in first responders.

The degree gives paramedics a better foundation to continue their education. For example, MS educators are required to have a bachelor’s degree. In addition to advancement, a higher level of education also gives a paramedic something to fall back on in case of injury in the field.

Along with the AAS in EMS program, the college is also working to establish a new pathway for high school students. The pathway will offer a daytime emergency medical technician class geared toward high school seniors, so that they can earn high school credit and hold a certificate as an EMT when they graduate high school. They can then immediately begin the AAS program, including their paramedic certification. Once they graduate with their AAS, they have the option to finish a Bachelor of Science in Emergency Medical Care online with Western Carolina University.

The college hopes this combination of new pathways for advancement will help increase and retain the number of skilled paramedics in the field.

Paramedics looking to start the degree program will have to apply to the college through the Admissions Office.