The EMS field is full of passionate, purposeful people who spend their lives serving others. Still, according to a 2019 study, the profession is comprised mostly of white men with few women first responders (and even fewer people of color). In fact, between 2008 and 2017, the percentage of new women paramedics never rose above 23%, while the percentage of women EMTs only increased from 28% in 2008 to 35% in 2017.
Diversity and inclusion in EMS is a multifaceted issue involving race, sexual orientation, religion, and much more — but providing increased representation for women specifically is important. Without increased representation and opportunities to join the field, women from all backgrounds are less likely to work in EMS. As a result, patients and others who need emergency care will suffer.
We sat down with two outstanding leaders in EMS — Julie Beach, dispatch deployment supervisor and emergency medical services captain at Falck Alameda County in California, and Linda Frederiksen, executive director at MEDIC EMS in Scott County, Iowa — to get their unique insights on why there aren’t more women in EMS, what problems can arise with a lack of women in the field, and how agencies can recruit more women to their teams.
Why Aren’t There More Women in EMS?
Julie Beach: EMS has not done a fantastic job in marketing itself to the general public. Few people outside of the first responder realm understand what EMTs and paramedics actually do. That harms our ability to be engaging and draw interest in pursuing an EMS profession. In addition, women historically haven’t been reflected as EMS workers in the media. I didn’t see female EMS role models until I was actively working toward the career.
Linda Frederiksen: Back in the day, it was commonly understood that those who went into the EMS field were predominantly male, similar to the perception that those who went into nursing were typically female.
Why Is It Important to Recruit Women in EMS?
Julie: Diversity among first responders matters because it allows us to be better clinicians, be more innovative in our care, be more communicative with our patients, and improve our overall relationships with our community partners. When you place a focus on inclusivity, you allow for idea-sharing; formerly unheard voices will reverberate and hopefully create positive changes for our patients and for the communities we serve. Women bring a different communication style to the table that truly helps make the field stronger. In my experience in the field, being the only woman who shows up on the scene for a baby delivery or even a child call — there’s something nice about seeing someone in the room who looks like you and is there to help.
Linda: I’m a firm believer that the greater the diversity within the workplace, the greater the workplace itself! EMTs and paramedics are expected to provide outstanding, comprehensive patient care to all in need of our services, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. Diversity within our workforce provides the infrastructure for endless opportunities to truly serve our patients in all types of situations, and it continues to grow our profession into a dynamic, solutions-oriented, and exciting place to be.
What EMS Recruitment Ideas Do You Suggest for Building Gender-Diverse Teams?
Julie: Listen to what women want out of an EMS career, and make room! If we listen carefully and create opportunities for more female input, I believe that we would see an increase in female applicants. Further, we can ensure that we are actively recruiting women and educating and mentoring them at younger ages about EMS. At the end of the day, we need to keep the conversation moving and keep making steps in the right direction on this topic. If nothing else, we need to assess what we want the EMS field to look like. In the next 50 years, what’s the dreamscape of what our industry could be?
Linda: Today, it’s more important than ever to determine not only what those in our profession bring to the workforce, but also what our profession can bring to those who choose a career in EMS. One way we can do this is to let future candidates know the needs of our profession and ask for feedback to help us provide career opportunities they are truly looking for. If we value our EMS providers, we must ensure that we are walking the talk and treating them well. There’s nothing like a true professional in any field who has the great attitude, passion, and enthusiasm to recruit other outstanding candidates into the profession.
Julie and Linda believe we cannot address the issue without fully understanding it first. Men have been the primary face in EMS for a long time, and women are still disproportionately represented. Marketing and recruitment are missing the mark with women, and perhaps all of the above is keeping their recruitment levels low. As much as our attitudes about diversifying our profession have changed for the better over the years, EMS still has a long way to go if the goal is to equalize the gender playing field.