Sun Prairie Emergency Medical Service will launch a pilot program with Madison Area Technical College in September to diversify its department and bring opportunities to fledging paramedics.
Successful candidates in the Paramedic Fellowship Program will get money for school—almost $12,000— and get hands-on training with Sun Prairie EMS. Once they graduated and are licensed, they will join Sun Prairie EMS as a part-time limited-time employee.
Sun Prairie EMS will tap into Madison College’s experience and expertise to pick the first candidate from the High School Fire/EMS Academy in September from underrepresented groups—different religions, ethnicities, races, gender, culture and social-economic backgrounds.
Sun Prairie EMS Chief Brian Goff advocated for the program last week, getting a thumbs-up from the Public Safety Committee to move forward.
Goff said the fellowship is a step above other internships with participants getting more training and education—with ultimately “more skin in the game” to successfully graduate and get licensed. He expects the idea to spread to other EMS departments as a viable partnership with Madison Area Technical College.
“We know that after we demonstrate success,” Goff said, “Other agencies are going to come on board and the program will expand throughout the county.”
The ultimate goal, Goff said, is to diversify the EMS department to better serve everyone.
“In EMS we have to be all things to all people,” Goff said. “It’s not just the ability to reflect the community but connect with the community.”
The department is moving toward that goal, Goff said, even if it can be accomplished every time—for example having a Spanish-speaking paramedic on an ambulance call with a Spanish-speaking patient.
“A like-to-like provider-to-patient relationship helps to facilitate good patient care and good communication,” Goff said. “And if we fail to make that effort, it is just an excuse to keep the status quo; we’ve got to make the effort to make that happen.’
Goff said Sun Prairie EMS has made progress in diversifying the department since he was hired in 2018.
“We are working toward that goal, but you can look out through the organization and see that we are not there yet, so we have to change our approach,” Goff said.
EMS departments nationwide are in the same situation with a majority of white, male personnel. Goff said there’s diversity in the lower levels of emergency medical services licensing classes but money, time and schedule conflicts are barriers to getting more advanced training.
“The Paramedic Fellowship program has the advantage of helping people over systematic hurdles,” Goff said.
Sun Prairie EMS, following the city’s mission of workplace diversity, has broadened its reach to recruiting underrepresented groups. Applicant reviews eliminate identifying factors that can create bias or prevents a candidate from going further in the hiring process, Goff said.
“We evaluate the whole person and measure their strengths against their weaknesses,” the EMS chief said.
Once hired, Goff said, it’s also important to create inclusive work environment that supports diversity.
“It is just enough to bring people into the organization that look different from the majority, you have to create an environment that is welcoming,” Goff said.
Employees go through equity and diversity training. It’s also about rethinking the status quo, Goff said. When it was time to replace CPR dummies, ones with darker skin were chosen and during the Westside Community Building remodeled, restrooms became gender-neutral.
“We have to create an environment that allows people to be themselves and be comfortable, That means we have to create space. We start with what might seem like a small gesture but carries a big impact,” Goff said.
The Paramedic Fellowship Program is expected to start in September with one candidate annually going through the program. Goff said the program will be funded by grants and the current EMS budget, with no additional costs to the city.