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. Recent studies, such as Females and Minority Racial/Ethnic Groups Remain Underrepresented in Emergency Medical Services: A Ten-Year Assessment, 2008–2017, demonstrate that the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workforce remains largely male and white, and often fails to meet the minimum levels of diversity found in most of the communities that they serve.
Additional research co-authored by Jamie Kennel, department chair of the Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech)/Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) EMS department, identified 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 the Public Health Journal, Medical Care.
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. Authors of the study 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.
“It’s critical, and yet insufficient, as university faculty members to identify and seek solutions for racial treatment disparities found in our industry in an effort to make our industry stronger. We must also examine barriers within our own university that prevent marginalized individuals from seeking an EMS education and career,” says Kennel.
With a mind to reduce the cost as one of the most significant barriers to education, Oregon Tech and OHSU EMS faculty applied for and received grants for scholarship funding to reduce the financial barrier for marginalized communities to obtain a career in EMS.
Six scholarships for the joint EMS program between Oregon Tech and OHSU have already been awarded, amounting to $18,000. The scholarships are intended for underserved populations and recognize students who embody the university’s emphasis on inclusion, innovation and impact. Three $5,000 scholarships support students pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree in Emergency Medical Technology - Paramedic education; and three $1,000 scholarships support students pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Emergency Medical Services Management.
Graduating in 2021, San Francisco native Rachel Bodin is a recipient of a $5,000 scholarship to support Paramedic studies.
“As a paramedic, I want to ensure that all groups are receiving an appropriate level of care and that treatment is not withheld to minority groups because of presuppositions about their character, pain tolerance or ability to communicate,” shared Rachel. “I think the biggest hurdle that EMS and the health care industry have to overcome is accessibility. On an individual level, I want to contribute to enhancing positive outcomes for groups that are underserved in these systems through understanding and learning about specific needs they face.”
Scholarships are broadly targeted at improving diversity in many 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)
- Individuals who demonstrate financial need, and who otherwise may not be able to complete their EMS training
Recipient of a $1,000 scholarship, Shyan Baker expects to graduate from Oregon Tech/OHSU in 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in EMS management.
“I am part of the LGBTQIA+ group and believe being a part of that group will make more patients comfortable when getting treated and transported,” said Shyan, who is originally from Estacada. “I lost my job because of COVID and so getting this scholarship was extremely helpful. School is very important to me and this scholarship helped me continue with school.”
Chris Hamper, faculty instructor and EMS scholarship lead at Oregon Tech/OHSU, shared his enthusiasm for the scholarships: “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.”