As a paramedic shift chief at University Medical Center’s Emergency Medical Services (UMC EMS) in Lubbock, West Texas, Matt Craft enjoys a job where he readily admits that no two working days are the same. It’s this variety —along with his commitment to serve the community where he was born and raised — that he loves the most about his profession. He credits his Master of Science in Healthcare Administration (MSHA) from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Health Professions (TTUHSC-SHP) for helping him to advance in his career and look to the future.
Craft didn’t always want to be a paramedic. Initially, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a firefighter but he quickly fell in love with medicine during his training at the fire academy.
“They require you to be an emergency medical technician (EMT) to get hired by our fire department so I started that way,” says Craft. “I thought firefighting was cool and I enjoyed fire academy but I quickly figured out I didn’t want to be on an engine. I wanted more. Ultimately I decided that medicine was more of what I longed for and what I found joy in.”
While working full time, Craft put himself through an intermediate EMT training class before qualifying as a paramedic and joining the EMS department at UMC, a 500-bed hospital that also serves as the primary teaching hospital for TTUHSC.
Climbing the Career Ladder
As an ambitious paramedic, Craft was quickly promoted through the ranks to his current position.
“I think it’s fairly common in the health care professions that people who are very good at their jobs are promoted quickly, especially in EMS,” says Craft. “We promote strong paramedics to field training officers and then the best field training officers get promoted to front line supervisors and then the best supervisors get promoted and so on.”
Despite his abilities as a skilled paramedic, Craft didn’t initially feel confident in his role as a supervisor.
“I realized really quickly, that being a good paramedic didn't make me a good supervisor,” says Craft. “To be a good health care manager and to understand things like the financial aspect of the business and certainly the leadership aspect of the role, I needed more. That’s when I sought out TTUHSC SHP to help me further my education so I could manage and lead my crews better. The master’s in health care administration just really aligned with my objectives and made a lot of sense for me and where my career was headed.”
What Does a Health Care Manager Do?
Craft explains that his role in health care management is to facilitate all the things that his crews need to be able to confidently and successfully deliver emergency medical services.
“As a shift chief, I'm the front line supervisor for all of the EMS crews in the city,” says Craft. “We've got four different shifts and I am a supervisor for one shift. My average day starts with doing the rounds, holding conversations, giving feedback and providing coaching to all of our paramedics. That's a big thing — developing those relationships and building the trust so that when they do need help, they feel confident and can come to me so that and I can solve their issues.”
Maintaining good communications between crews, patients and other health care workers is an important part of Craft’s job.
“I'm often called on to act as a mediator between crews and patients,” says Craft. “I can come and talk to a patient who really needs to come to the hospital but doesn't want to. They call it verbal judo. I’m also the mediator at the hospital between the paramedic crews, physicians, nursing staff, and administrative workers.”
Then there is the logistics side of being a health care manager.
“Every night our crews put in orders for supplies that were used the previous shift,” says Craft. “I'm the logistical person who fills those supplies or helps out if they need to replace a critical piece of equipment.”
It was the logistic side of the job that Craft found most challenging when he was first promoted and the financial and business training he received while studying for his master’s in health care administration proved to be a huge benefit. Navigating the complexities of cost vs. value vs. patient benefit can be a difficult calculation in a health care environment.
“There are hundreds of different suppliers out there for every piece of equipment that we use, from cardiac monitors that cost $40,000 each, down to our saline flushes that cost less than 10 cents,” explains Craft. “Being able to determine value is not necessarily something that is very intuitive for some people. Looking at not just cost, but also at value — what benefit it gives the patient to use one product over the other — is very important and was something that TTUHSC SHP really helped educate me on.”
The Science Behind Better Health Care Management
On the job, Craft implemented many of the strategies he learned while studying at TTUHSC SHP, and that helped him become a more efficient health care manager.
“The big thing in medicine at the moment is evidence-based medicine,” says Craft. “Doing the right things, building protocols, and treating patients based on what science says is best for the patient. TTUHSC SHP helped me understand how medical and health services managers can learn from this approach and develop something called evidence-based management.”
Craft has found this approach has been particularly useful in the recruitment and retention of staff.
“It's not just that gut feeling that somebody is going to be a good employee for me,” says Craft. “There's more science to it than I ever imagined and TTUHSC SHP helped me open my eyes to the possibility of using evidence to guide the process.”
This evidence-based approach is particularly important because maintaining staffing levels is currently one of Craft’s biggest challenges.
“Everybody's talking about the shortage of paramedics in West Texas,” says Craft. “So my biggest difficulty right now is recruiting and retaining high-quality paramedics. This is an area where we've had to innovate a little bit and change our approach.”
Understanding the typical length of time a paramedic will give to the service before being promoted or moving into another profession is vital when building a sustainable recruitment policy and maintaining adequate staffing.
“We can expect our turnover to be approximately 15 to 20% percent, year after year,” says Craft. “Using a science-based approach and keeping a level head when you know that turnover is coming, we can plan for it and make better decisions to get ahead of that process. If we can anticipate that someone is going to leave by January we can start the recruitment process in September or October. So that's kind of what we've done instead of getting offended or upset about losing a good employee.”
Craft explains that the career tenure of a paramedic is sometimes short-lived and that’s why continuing with their education is so important to many employees on his crews.
“There are some people who are going to be 25- to 30-year tenured paramedics,” says Craft. “But EMS is hard on the body — climbing in and out of the truck, wrestling with patients who might not understand the urgency or importance of their need to go to the hospital, and working in the elements — it’s difficult and a lot of people do seek promotion or a move into another career. That’s a natural progression for many paramedics and I would absolutely encourage them to check out TTUHSC SHP’s programs and see what they have to offer.”
Online Health Care Degrees Can Be Critical for Success
As a family man with a wife and two children, it was important to Craft that he could continue working while studying for his degree. TTUHSC SHP’s online health care degrees made this entirely possible.
“All of the course work was 100% online,” says Craft. “I didn't have to go in for any labs or meetings. If I needed additional support, I could easily schedule a video conference or a phone conference at any hour of the day and get that extra help.”
Craft admits that studying online did require a level of discipline and support from his family.
“I was hitting the books hard and my family had to be very understanding of the fact that when I was at home this was my office for school,” says Craft. “You have to be fairly disciplined to sit down and to read and write those papers and do all that study at home.”
Aside from allowing Craft to study while working full time, Craft also believes the online programs provided exceptional financial value. “The program was also really affordable,” says Craft. “That was a big factor for me. I didn't want a mountain of debt when I graduated.”
Becoming part of the TTUHSC community was a strong pull for Craft and having the opportunity to be a graduate of his local university was a big deal for this native Texan. The availability and flexibility of online education made it happen for him.
“I've always been a Red Raider,” says Craft. “I can remember 25-30 years ago, my first Texas Tech football game and the excitement there. Growing up in Lubbock, it always made sense geographically to go to TTUHSC SHP. And since I was working full time through my master’s degree program, it was very important they offered an online curriculum.”
Even while attending classes online, Craft doesn’t feel he missed out on the experience of face-to-face engagement.
“We had group work in numerous classes,” says Craft “We had to get together and figure out how to work together on projects, often across various time zones. We did some video conference calls as well as standard phone calls to get the group project work arranged and taken care of. We still got the social benefit in that way, it just wasn't face to face. We couldn’t shake hands but we still got to communicate on the phone, on video, through the message boards — I think amply enough to get the social effect just without being in the same room.”
Craft believes the online approach actually mirrors many of the technological advancements in the delivery of emergency medical services.
“Telehealth is becoming much more prevalent, especially out here in the west of Texas,” says Craft. “For example, say you are in the panhandle of Texas and you've got a possible stroke patient — the time it takes to get that patient to the hospital is very important. Before you make the decision to either put that patient in an ambulance to travel 150 miles or get them on a helicopter, teleconferencing can enable a physician to actually put eyes on the patient and assess the patient remotely. They are able to actually look into the patient’s eyes and say ‘Hey I think this patient needs a helicopter’ or ‘I think it’s OK for this patient to go by ground.’ That's becoming much more common to see.”
Invest in Your Future in Health Care Management
So what advice would Craft offer to any potential medical and health services managers looking to progress in their careers by going back to school?
“I think it’s the same as going into any area of higher education,” says Craft. “You need to ask yourself: What do you want from it? What are your goals?”
Understanding what your long-term ambitions might be is particularly useful when making decisions about what online programs might be beneficial to you.
“I think you need to step back and ask yourself what you want to do for the rest of your life,” says Craft. “Currently, I want to lead paramedics but eventually, I want to move up into hospital administration; so this degree made a lot of sense for me. I feel it’s going to open doors for me down the road, or at the very least, keep them from slamming in my face. Whether you are a paramedic or a nurse, if you’re interested in leading other paramedics or leading other nurses then absolutely, I would encourage them to check out this MSHA program in particular.”
To learn more about TTUHSC SHP’s Master of Science in Healthcare Administration program, to speak with a team member about the admission process or to arrange a tour of our campus, visit the program page on our website, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the SHP Office of Admissions and Student Affairs at (806) 743-3220.