Understanding the prehospital physician controversy. Step 1: comparing competencies of ambulance nurses and prehospital physicians.

Eur J Emerg Med. 2011 Dec;18(6):322-7.
van Schuppen H, Bierens J.


In many European countries prehospital care by emergency medical services (EMS) is supplemented by physician-staffed services. There is ongoing controversy on the benefits of a prehospital physician. Possible advantages are additional competencies of the physician. Similarities and differences in competencies of EMS providers and physicians have however never been studied. This study aims to compare competencies of ambulance nurses and helicopter EMS physicians in the Netherlands to gain better insight into the controversy of the prehospital physician.


In this descriptive study, a quantitative inventory was made of the diagnostic, therapeutic, and clinical judgment competencies of the ambulance nurse and physician, based on analysis of protocols, registration, equipment, and personal interviews.


We identified 438 mutual competencies of the ambulance nurse and physician and 62 physician-specific competencies. The ambulance nurse masters 278 diagnostic, 131 therapeutic, and 29 clinical judgment competencies. The physician masters 285 diagnostic, 175 therapeutic, and 40 clinical judgment competencies. Seventy-one percent of the physician-specific competencies are therapeutic and related to advanced life support.


The ambulance nurse and physician have various mutual competencies. In addition, the physician can provide specific competencies on the scene. Knowing the exact overlap and differences in competencies is the first step to understand the prehospital physician controversy. Our results can be used as a tool for the next step in research on prehospital care by EMS providers and physicians and to improve prehospital care.

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