By Mihaiela R. Gugiu, PhD, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians
The death of George Floyd in May of 2020 reverberated across the world and led to renewed urgency for addressing systemic racism, discrimination and inequity. Although similar incidents and calls to action have taken place in the past, this time was different. Organizations ― small and large — pledged to take concrete steps to address these long overdue issues. This article captures the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians’ efforts to actively fight against systemic racism by promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (the National Registry) is the nation’s emergency medical services (EMS) certification organization, a role that it has proudly served for over five decades. Over the years, the organization, which started with a handful of employees, has evolved into a mid-size entity dedicated to providing a valid, uniform process to assess the knowledge and skills required for competent practice by EMS professionals throughout their careers, and to maintain a registry of certification status. The global calls to action in the fight against systemic racism motivated the National Registry to also evaluate how well it is living up to the values of diversity, equity and inclusiveness, and what steps it can take to thwart systemic racism.
The Formation of the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force
In early June, the National Registry issued a statement that reaffirmed its commitment to fighting racism, harassment and discrimination against EMS professionals and stakeholders, EMS candidates, National Registry board officers and directors, and National Registry representatives, volunteers and staff. The organization also pledged to continue building a more diverse and inclusive organization for all its members, including the board of directors and volunteers.
The public statement was quickly followed by an organization-wide effort to create a working group focused on identifying concrete steps for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion within the confines of the organization. Within weeks, the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Task Force was established and began holding weekly meetings.
Since none of the seven staff members that made up the task force had any expertise in this area, the first several meetings were spent on education and developing an action plan. By the end of July 2020, the D&I Task Force drafted its mission statement, titled “Stronger Together,” and four concrete goals designed to:
- Assess the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts
- Empower staff
- Expand recruitment efforts to purposefully promote diversity
- Provide engaging activities that would enable everyone to enjoy the journey of self-discovery and knowledge
The D&I Task Force mission statement and goals were then presented to the entire staff.
Concrete Steps Toward a Shared Vision
Finding Where We Stand
Following this, the D&I Task Force began developing an organizational cultural competency survey. Given the novelty of the topics covered by the survey and the sensitivity of the questions included, the National Registry contracted with an external organization to administer the survey and aggregate the responses. The survey was administered in mid-October and yielded an 80% response rate. More importantly, the survey provided the National Registry the opportunity to reaffirm the organization’s commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusiveness, as well as to identify areas it does well in and those in which it needs to focus its efforts while moving forward.
Small Steps Toward Inclusivity
In another effort designed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, the D&I Task Force developed an internal D&I webpage. The webpage includes information about the task force’s mission and goals, as well as articles, presentations and resources that staff can access to learn more about various aspects of this work. Additionally, the webpage serves as a central space where information and resources related to new D&I Task Force initiatives are made available to the staff.
Realizing that race is just one dimension of diversity, the D&I Task Force also proposed the addition of pronouns to staff email signatures. The initiative is designed to make everyone, both within the organization and outside of it, feel welcomed, comfortable and accepted regardless of who they are. The organization-wide effort was introduced in November 2020 and was accompanied by resources about the importance of using gender inclusive language, which were posted to the internal D&I webpage.
The organization also began forging new alliances with historically black colleges and universities in a deliberate effort to diversify the pool of candidates for the National Registry’s research fellowship program. These alliances are also important in expanding recruitment efforts to purposefully increase diversity at the organizational level. In conjunction with expanding traditional recruitment sources, the human resource staff added a voluntary demographic disclosure to the application process so they can better track its efforts.
Knowledge Is Power
In line with the goals identified by the D&I Task Force, the National Registry is also preparing the launch of a media club in January 2021 titled, “Contagious Conversations.” The club is designed to create a safe space for staff to discuss topics around race, diversity, equity and inclusion. It is also designed to expose staff to new perspectives and help them learn about others who are different from them through reading, listening or watching stories that might otherwise be avoided. Throughout these efforts, the D&I Task Force has partnered with the National Registry’s communications team to ensure that the organization is inclusive in its language and cognizant of all marketing materials.
Beyond the Walls of the National Registry
In addition to the internal efforts, the National Registry Board of Directors initiated a national effort to identify actionable ways to prevent and eliminate systemic racism and inequality, as well as promote diversity and inclusion in the EMS community.
To this end, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) in EMS Task Force was created. Led by the National Registry, IDEA comprises representatives from the National Association of EMTs (NAEMT), Committee on Accreditation of EMS Professions (CoAEMSP), International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE), National Association of State EMS Officials (NAEMSO), American Ambulance Association (AAA) and National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP). Since August, IDEA members have been meeting twice a month to identify concrete steps for increasing diversity in the field of EMS, including plans for engaging individuals at a young age, promoting the EMS profession as a career opportunity and developing mentoring opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in the EMS field.
It is important to note the important role the organization’s leadership, starting with the CEO, Bill Seifarth, the chair of the board of directors, Dr. Heather Davis, and the entire board of directors has played from the beginning in supporting these internal and external initiatives.
The National Registry realizes the task ahead is tremendous, but the organization is confident that, by working together, it can build a more inclusive and equitable organization, EMS community and society as a whole.