Exploring Paramedic Student Leadership Characterstics in Emergency Medical Services Education Programs: A Grounded Theory Study

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Miller, Michael G.
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Leadership skills are important to function in the field of emergency medical services. Paramedics operate in unpredictable environments, often as members of complex, interdisciplinary teams where stakes are high. Many theories have described the importance of effective leadership across several disciplines, yet few studies have explored leadership in the field of emergency medical services. Utilizing a qualitative grounded theory approach this study included interviews of 35 paramedic students from 5 different paramedic education programs. Specifically, this study sought to understand leadership concepts from the perspective of paramedic students, exploring leadership characteristics and influential factors shaping paramedic students’ ideas about leadership. Identifying these leadership characteristics provides the foundation upon which emergency medical services leadership may be further enhanced and developed. Paramedic students in this study identified 44 distinct leadership attributes when referring to his or her leadership skills. Furthermore, 31 leadership characteristics were reported in paramedics the students had observed in action, and when speaking broadly about essential leadership characteristics participants expressed a total of 51 characteristics. A comprehensive analysis of all three categories resulted in 15 common leadership characteristics. Influential factors upon leadership development within the paramedic education environment as well as external to it were also explored. Non-emergency medical services education-related experiences shaping leadership concepts included myriad activities, educational endeavors other than emergency medical services, people, and employment. Laboratory sessions utilizing complex scenarios and field internship were identified as the most influential emergency medical services education strategies to participants in this study. The goal of this research is enhancement of the quality of patient care through the development of effective paramedic leaders. Several recommendations have resulted for the many stakeholders involved in educating paramedic students. Foremost among the recommendations is to develop learning outcomes for paramedic students’ leadership abilities. Additional key recommendations include: development of paramedic curricula that includes robust leadership training, frequent use of scenarios that includes assessment of leadership performance, and establishment of mentoring programs designed to nurture leadership skills. It is paramount that all with an interest in emergency medical response seek to develop the most capable paramedic leaders in the interest of optimal patient care.
Creighton University
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