Diversity Emergency

ems diversity

Data indicates the nation’s EMS workforce is largely white and male, holding potentially harmful consequences for public health.

AS A BOY GROWING UP IN St. Louis, Larry Penton was fascinated by comedian Bill Cosby playing a wisecracking ambulance driver in the bawdy 1976 comedy “Mother, Jugs and Speed.” He often found himself thumbing through medical journals his mom, then in nursing school, brought home from time to time.

But young Larry couldn’t imagine himself, an African American kid, inside an ambulance, adrenaline surging, siren screaming, racing to help someone in an emergency. Back then, he thought that job was for white people, or for black actors playing fictional ones on screen.

“I didn’t think black people qualified for it – it was something that we didn’t do,” says Penton, 48, who grew up, finished school and went on to a career in information technology. “I thought it was an anomaly when I saw Bill doing the movie. But I thought, ‘Hey, he’s an actor – he’s playing a role.'”

A recent study, however, indicates Penton’s childhood analysis of the emergency medical services profession wasn’t off base. It indicates that, although more women and Hispanics are completing certification training in recent years, the profession is largely white and male, and struggles to put more minorities and women on the job – particularly African Americans.

Doctors Wanted

That lack of diversity may perpetuate persistent health disparities between whites and minorities, according to the study, published this summer by the journal Prehospital Emergency Care. (read more)

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