Responding to Student Needs through Community Participation in Course Design

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1 Responding to Student Needs through Community Participation in Course Design Gary U. Behrman, Kim McKenna, Todd J. Richardson, and Scott Freitag Lindenwood University s School of Human Services vision for the upcoming decade is teaching excellence through engagement with the community ( In line with this vision, faculty members are seeking ways to engage local community leaders in order to identify and create core competencies required of future human service employees. The goal is to teach the skills, knowledge, and values that are expected of employees in ambulance, fire, and police departments; social work agencies, and nonprofit organizations. With this goal in mind, the first author contacted local human service employers and informally surveyed them regarding the primary needs of their employees. What surfaced was the need for human service employees to be better equipped to manage the stressors that often accompany traumatic events that are common in their careers. As a result, a new interdisciplinary course entitled First Responders is being designed in the School of Human Services that is directly responsive to the psycho-social needs of human service professionals. This paper describes this process from research to practice, including the challenges and potentials that become transparent when professors link knowledge and resources with the local community, and the implications for curriculum design and academic research. Description of the Concerns It is critical for universities to offer degree programs that prepare graduates for careers that are sustainable, relevant, and responsive to the job market. Some of the undergraduate degree programs offered in the School of Human Services are Criminal Justice, Fire & Paramedic Science, Nonprofit Administration, Christian Ministry Studies, and Social Work. These professions are needed in all communities and involve some level of responsibilities as first responders. First responders are persons who, in the early stages of an emergency event, work to protect and preserve life, property, evidence, and the environment (Suburban Emergency Management Project, 2011). During the past few decades, community needs have shifted, and employers in the field of human services are responding by requiring traditional paraprofessional occupations such as fire fighters, paramedics, police officers, case managers, and nonprofit organizational workers to obtain education beyond certifications and associate degrees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011), a person s chances of finding work in these fields increases significantly with the completion of a bachelor s degree (Ford, 2003; Hecker, 2005). This professionalizing of traditional human services careers is demanding creative and responsive curriculum development that is accountable to the needs of the community, employer, and the university. It is critical that universities and human service agencies collaborate to assist graduates in meeting the challenges of serving communities with core competencies.

2 Importance of the Concerns to Research and Practice with Adults A significant need identified by faculty and local human service employers is for an interdisciplinary course on developing coping skills, resilience, and self-care as first responders. This concern is supported by the National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Education Agenda for the Future (2011) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2008). The former lists as its first priority the development of an EMS workforce that includes the health, safety, and wellness of its employees. The National EMS Scope of Practice Model (U.S. Department of Transportation), 2005), which defines recommended practices, skills, and minimum competencies for each personnel level and the National EMS Education Standards (2006), which outline competencies, clinical behaviors and judgments at each licensure level, mandate the inclusion of self-care and well-being for first responders. These competencies consist of wellness principles, safety and well-being, stress management, and preventing workrelated injuries. Taking care of the physical and emotional health of human service professionals is a top priority among employers today (EMS Education Agenda for the Future (2011). First responders work under stressful conditions that are both unique to their professions and common to all EMS workers (Figley, 1995). These conditions consist of serving together in life threatening situations, expecting team members to protect each other s safety, working closely with diverse cultures, and missing holidays and evenings with families (EMS Education Agenda for the Future, 2011). These factors combined require effective coping strategies that are essential if first responders are to be competent and effective in their field of service. The risk of losing qualified emergency workers due to work related stressors poses an immense challenge for employers. A consensus panel of mental health providers, sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA) defined potential stressors encountered by EMS workers and identified potential adverse psychological and behavioral reactions these stressors can have upon EMS personnel (Lipton & Everly, 2002). According to this consensus panel, what is warranted in any curriculum that prepares EMS workers is knowledge about maladaptive stress related reactions to trauma, skills in critical incident stress management, and strategies to manage work related stressors (Lipton & Everly, 2002). Other studies indicate that firefighters and paramedics have high self-reported levels of stress related to their jobs, and a significant number scored poorly on some key measures of mental health (Boxer & Wild, 1993; Ford, 2003). In studies conducted with police officers, the results are similar (Marmar et al., 2006). The frequency of posttraumatic stress symptoms in social workers might be attributed to secondary exposure to traumatic events through their work (Bride, 2007). Among paramedics, job related stress is significant and can cause lapses in services (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2008). These data indicate that there is a need to prepare future first responders with the knowledge, skills, and values that will enable them to be competent and maintain the highest standards of performance that is expected by the community of human service professionals. Furthermore, many EMS leaders would prefer to see more emphasis on the overall wellness of EMS workers. They would prefer workplace policies that foster a culture that supports the physical and mental health of EMS workers, and that encourages self responsibility through onand off-the-job behaviors which decrease the overall risk of illness and injury" (EMS Education Agenda for the Future, 2011, p.12)

3 Reference to Approaches to Deal with the Concerns One approach to preparing students for highly stressful careers is to develop an interdisciplinary course for first responders, which will prepare students to maintain healthy lifestyles when responding to community crises. A dynamic process is in place that is gathering data from multiple sources and across disciplines. This First Responders course will be offered in the School of Human Services Social Work Department January 2012 and will be collaboratively designed with hands-on contributions from an Assistant Chief of Operations for EMS, EMS Special Operations Chief, Assistant Chief Fire & Rescue, Director of Education for County Ambulance Services, Fire Department Battalion Chief, police officers, a representative from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and select students in the School of Human Services. It helps when police, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, social workers, chaplains, and psychologists meet together to talk about aspects of coordination and care should there be a community disaster. If each discipline meets only when a disaster strikes, chaos can be the result (Lipton & Everly, 2002, p. 20). Managing the stressors associated with being first responders from a multidiscipline approach is critical for successful careers (Institute of Medicine, 2006). Drawing upon the expertise and experiences of human service professionals from the community, interviews will take place with local police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nonprofit administrators, and social workers serving in local urban, suburban, and rural agencies in the St. Charles, Missouri area. The interviews will focus on self-care and developing resilience that first responders and their human service managers believe a student must learn and be able to demonstrate upon graduation. This competency-based education is an outcome performance approach to course and program development (Council on Social Work Education, 2010). All perspectives are valued and will be taken into consideration in the design and implementation of this course. Discussion of the Way in which the Concerns Related to the Conference Theme of Linking Theory and Practice Each profession operates from a theoretical perspective that is unique to its discipline and this theory informs and shapes the knowledge, skills, and values specific to that profession. According to Marlatt and Walz (1988), the primary characteristic that differentiates a [profession] from a vocation is its theoretical commitment to rendering a public service (p. 445). Linking practice with theory is imperative for educating and training future first responders. The theories we hold within professional disciplines deeply influence how we interpret data, explain behaviors, and design our interventions when serving the community (Turner, 1996). When integrating a first responder s self-care course into the curriculum a theoretical premise needs to be established that intersects the diverse degree programs. The practice theory that has been chosen in designing the course objectives is systems theory (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 2009), which recognizes that all relationships are dynamic and take place within an interconnecting environment. Trained in this theory, human service professionals are aware of multiple aspects of persons interacting with their environment and how each influences the other (Hutchison, 2010). Thus, resilience and stress management education involve an inter-relational community approach rather than each individual fending for him/herself. Personal and

4 environmental strengths are surfaced and maximized that lower the risk of first responders not being able to manage the stressors that accompany traumatic events. Conclusion The process of creating a course that addresses the health needs of first responders will entail rubrics that assess student competencies in serving as first responders, taking into consideration cultural, religious, gender, age, and socio-economic variables. Students will be able to self assess along with their professor and instructors, their capacities to explore, identity, and resolve their own biases and stereotypes regarding self care and crisis services for others. Through this course, students will be able to build knowledge and skills in self-care and strengthen resilience behaviors that support their services to the community. Research projects flowing from this project will consist of studies that determine if there is value for students who successfully complete this course The team will consist of the professor, professionals in the community, and students enrolled in human service degree programs. Measurements will be presented that indicate core competencies needed for self care as first responders along with future research projects. Resources such as government reports/websites, empirical studies, peer- reviewed journals, newspapers, and other media forms will be provided to participants. Time will be allocated for discussion, questions, and responses. References Boxer, P. & Wild, D. (1993). Psychological distress and alcohol use among fire fighters. Journal of Environmental Health. 19, Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (2011). Educational policies and accreditation standards. Retrieved from: Figley, C. (Ed.) (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress in those who treat the traumatized. London: Brunner-Routlege. Ford, T. (2003). Training and education needs for district fire chiefs in the Nashville fire department: Executive development Hecker, D. (2005). Occupational employment to Monthly Labor Review, 11(118), Retrieved from: Hutchison, E. (2010). Dimensions of human behavior: Person and environment (4th ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Institute of Medicine (June, 2006). Emergency services at the crossroads: Consensus report. Retrieved from: Services-At-the- Crossroads.aspx Lindenwood University School of Human Services (2011). Retrieved from: ( Lipton, H., & Everly, G. S. (2002). Mental Health Needs for Providers of Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC): A Report of a Consensus Panel. PEC, 6(1), Marlatt, Patrick F. & Walz, Bruce J. (1988). Training and Professional Development. In Coleman, R.J., & Granito, J.A. (Eds.), Managing Fire Services (2nd), (Chap.18). Washington, DC: International City Management Association.

5 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2008). EMS workforce for the 21st century: A national assessment (E. M. Services, Trans.. In University of California San Francisco National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Education Agenda for the Future (May, 2011). Annals of Emergency Medicine. 31(2), Retrieved from: National EMS Scope of Practice Model (U.S. Department of Transportation. (2005), Public Health Department Training of Emergency Medical Technicians for Bioterrorism and Public Health Emergencies: Results of a National Assessment. Retrieved from: Department_Training_of_Emergency.12.aspx National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, United States ( ). MMWR, 52, Robbins, S., Chatterjee, P., & Canda, E. (1998). Contemporary human behavior theory: A critical perspective for social work. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Turner, F. (1996). Social work treatment (4 th Ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.Suburban Emergency Management Project (SEMP) (2006). On the forefront of evidence based disaster management. Nov-Dec Vol. 6(5). Retrieved from: U. S. Department of Labor (2011). Bureau of labor statistics Retrieved from: Gary U. Behrman, PhD, MSW, LCSW, M.Div., Assistant Professor, Director of Social Work Program, Lindenwood University, Kim D. McKenna, M.Ed. RN CEN EMT-P., Director of Education, St. Charles County Ambulance District, Todd Richardson, M.A., Compliance Administrator, Office of Research Integrity, Saint Louis University, Adjunct Professor, Lindenwood University Sociology Department, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Scott Frietag, MBA, Associate in Applied Science Fire Protection Technology, Executive Fire Officer, MO Paramedic License, Assistant Chief of Operations, Cottleville Fire Protection District, Adjunct Professor Lindenwood University Fire and Emergency Services Management, Presented at the Midwest Research-to Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education, Lindenwood University, St. Louis, MO, September 21-23, 2011.

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