According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for paramedics during the decade between 2014 – 2024 is expected to grow 24 percent, faster than the average for other professions. One of the biggest obstacles to hiring has been a turnover rate reaching 20 percent in some parts of the U.S., according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). As new paramedics are hired, a significant number leave. In 2011, the average tenure of a paramedic was 6.5 years cited Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. That number is decreased to four years according to family therapist Dr. Beverly J. Paschal.
Dr. Paschal is Board Certified in Emergency Crisis Response, and has worked in the field of EMS for most of her career. This year, she was awarded her second doctoral degree. Her doctoral dissertation attempted to find out whether the tenure of a paramedic could be determined by core personality traits, more specifically, British psychologist, Raymond Cattell’s 16 PF (Personality Factor Model).
“This research has consistently demonstrated the interaction between job performance and personality,” wrote Dr. Paschal. “However, research regarding paramedic stress has shown that paramedics are vulnerable to the stress that comes from helping or wanting to help injured people, as well as the impact of witnessing recurring traumatic events.”
Dr. Cattall’s 16 PF Questionnaire consists of 164 statements such as: I take control of things; I try to forgive and forget. Through self-assessment, the participant then responds to the statement using a scale of five responses: (1) disagree, (2) slightly disagree, (3) neither agree nor disagree, (4) slightly agree, (5) agree.
When finished, the participant is given a score for each of the 16 traits: 1) Warmth, 2) Reasoning, 3) Emotional Stability,4) Dominance, 5) Liveliness, 6) Rule Consciousness, 7) Social Boldness, 8) Sensitivity, 9) Vigilance, 10) Abstractedness, 11) Privateness, 12) Apprehension, 13) Openness to Change, 14) Self-Reliance, 15) Perfectionism and 16) Tension.
Dr. Paschal used this model for insight into the personality traits EMS professionals. Assembling a group of long-term paramedics (5+ years) and those with shorter tenure (< 5 years), Dr. Paschal used just six of the 16 personality traits as a guide - 1) Warmth, 2) Reasoning, 3) Emotional Stability, 4) Liveliness, 5) Social Boldness, and 6) Openness to Change.
Dr. Paschal’s results may be disconcerting for some and obvious to others.
“The results showed that of the 6 personality traits, only warmth was a significant predictor of paramedic tenure,” said Dr. Paschal.
According to a study administered online using the Cattall 16 PF Questionnaire, “Warmth” is simply how nice one is to others. “Low scorers are impersonal, distant, cool, reserved, detached, formal and aloof. High scorers are outgoing, attentive to others, kindly, easy-going and like to be around people.
That said Dr. Paschal found that paramedics that stay longer score lower for “Warmth” on the 16 PF Questionnaire.
“One of the ways that paramedics with less warmth cope with the difficult and emotional aspects of the disturbing situations they are called to work in, is to emotionally keep their distance from the people they are helping,” said Dr. Paschal. The ability to compartmentalize allows first responders of all types to perform their job day after day without losing themselves in the pain and suffering of those they are assisting.”
Dr. Paschal’s “16PF® Traits as Predictors of Emergency Medical Service Worker Tenure,” is one of the few studies that investigated how paramedics’ personality traits pertain to their ability to utilize these coping strategies,” a possible supplementary component to providing coping strategies for dealing with stress.
Learn more about Dr. Paschal’s “16PF® Traits as Predictors of Emergency Medical Service Worker Tenure,” and take the free online test.