I saw a post in an EMS forum from a newly minted EMT expressing fear and trepidation about their knowledge base and their readiness to perform in the field. After some reflection and even a dose of cynicism and sarcasm, I hereby put these thoughts out there for the entry level EMT.
EMT is among the easiest certifications to get with the lowest barrier to entry and relatively low standards. Less than 200 hours of training should scare you. It’s but an entry level certification and a remarkably simple achievement. Holding yourself out as any sort of medical professional or hero with this little training should scare the heck out of you, your colleagues, and your patients. And contrary to the t-shirts, very few paramedics are “saved” by EMTs.
But in all fairness, I don’t blame you. I blame the EMS profession and some EMS educators and recruiters who’ve promised you that your entry level education will save lives and make you a hero. If you haven’t already figured it out, much of what you were trained for rarely happens. Some of those neat bandaging and splinting tricks (many of which are straight out of the old Boy Scout and Red Cross first aid texts) will never enter into your career. The things you glossed over, namely medical emergencies and patient assessment, are the bread and butter of EMS. You’re in a service career that deals with people. And the general public doesn’t follow the same definition of emergency that you got in your class. Remember, these are the folks that called their doctor after hours and got a recording saying, “If you’re having a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911.” Thus, enter EMS — and the call nature that you don’t consider an emergency. In short, the reality is that you’re much more likely to use your ability to talk to a patient than you ever will an occlusive dressing or a traction splint.
So, what to do? Well, first of all, as they say in the movie Jarhead, “Embrace the suck.” In other words, embrace the fact that your new field involves much less heroism and much more service and caregiving. You’ll be less disappointed and less burnt out along the way. Second, recognize that a certification of minimal entry level competence is the entry to the field, not the pinnacle of achievement. In other words, the real learning starts now. Whether it’s podcasts, social media, journals (NOT trade magazines), or conferences, you need access to real medical education. Finally, have a life outside of EMS. Have hobbies, have a family. Don’t wrap yourself solely in the identity of being an EMT (or a paramedic. Or even an attorney.) And with that advice, you’re closer to ready to embark on your path in EMS, regardless of your certification.
Saving lives? Occasionally. Providing service? Every day.