Core Maxims of EMS

Here are a few of my core observations and beliefs about EMS.

1) You can never go wrong catering to the lowest common denominator of EMS.  The success of Facebook groups like The Most Interesting Ambulance Crew In The World and t-shirts with themes including cutting clothes off of patients continues to prove this maxim.

2) Until EMS engages itself in political advocacy, our future and agenda will always be subject to the whims of others, whether it’s the nursing lobby, the fire service, or unelected bureaucrats in your state’s health and human services bureaucracy.

3) We’re always looking for the next BIG thing that will advance EMS.  Today’s flavor du jour is “community paramedicine.” As much as I like the idea, I’ve yet to see an easily defined skill set or a knowledge base that’s portable across jurisdictions.

4) As long as we continue to define ourselves by a skill set (e.g. I’m a paramedic, therefore I intubate), we will, at best, remain a vocation.  Honestly, right now, we’re a collection of skills more or less randomly put together as “things that might be useful to know in a medical emergency.”  (Otherwise, how could some universities offer a 2 week program for nurses and physicians to become paramedics?)

5) What passes for our education prepares us for emergency medicine.  What our call volumes is typically represents urgent and primary care with a few actual emergencies on occasion.

6) There’s a joke about leaving two firefighters in a room with a ball bearing and that it would be broken in an hour.  Leave two medics in a room for an hour and there will be a clique of “cool kids” and a rumor mill be going.

7) Patients don’t know how good your medical skills or knowledge are.  They are more than capable of figuring out whether or not you actually care for them.

8) If you’ve seen one EMS system, you’ve seen one EMS system.  At least in the USA, there’s no one ideal model of EMS system or service delivery.  What’s going to work in Presidio, Texas sure isn’t going to work in downtown Seattle.

9) Any EMS service that constantly bangs the PR drum to tell you how progressive they are probably isn’t all that progressive.

10) There are a few EMS systems out there that aren’t worth keeping.  Start over from scratch.  Washington DC. Cough. Washington DC. Cough.

11) The current EMS educational models and examination models give a de facto veto to whichever state has the lowest standards.

12) The most overlooked aspect of an EMS student’s educational experience is their set of clinical rotations.

13) Pain management matters.  Having said that, EMS providers need a non-narcotic option as well.

14) As long as people are willing to accept substandard working conditions, substandard working conditions will exist.  In other words, if you don’t like parking on a street corner for 12+ hours, don’t work there.

15) You cannot build an EMS system without taking care of your medics.  Period.

16) In the overwhelming majority of cases, communities get the EMS system they pay for. A suburban bedroom community that chooses to only have a BLS volunteer service shouldn’t act surprised when a crew isn’t available at 3:00 PM.

17) Until the average EMS provider can use, pronounce, and spell medical terminology with something approximating intelligible English, we shouldn’t be surprised when our healthcare colleagues seem hesitant to trust us with high-risk procedures like intubation and surgical airways.

18) The follow-on to #17 is that we need to prove ourselves competent with our current skill-set in emergency medicine before we can legitimately expect to be entrusted with the expanded scope of practice in community paramedicine or critical care.

19) We’re fooling ourselves when we have providers who want EMS to be able to refuse to treat or transport “low acuity” patients while at the same time parroting the phrase, “We don’t diagnose.”

20) If we truly have a national EMS exam and a common educational standard, reciprocity across state lines should be a virtual given.  Artificial barriers and hurdles established by state licensing entities represent one of the banes of EMS — turf protection.

Final one….

21) Turf protection wars (fire versus other delivery models, private versus public, BLS versus ALS, ad nauseum) will end up proving Ben Franklin’s adage about hanging together rather than hanging separately.



  1. Jordan Collins says:

    Apparently it’s “point-out-the-ugly-truths-of-EMS-week”. You are spot on with your points. Several of my coworkers and I have been discussing this at length.

  2. Steve Pike says:

    Codicil to # 17: if you cannot have a rational, reasoned discussion with a physician who disagrees with you, you don’t know what you’re doing, much less why you’re doing it.

  3. 6) Made me chuckle. It was a sad chuckle, but a chuckle nonetheless.

    7) Has got to be one of the biggest and most meaningful points I try to focus on in my work. Thank you for putting that so eloquently and concisely.

    12) I whole heartedly agree. My clinical time for my AEMT was spent completely in an ER. I had zero time on an ambulance–none of my classmates did. I learned a lot about how ER’s work, and learned quite a bit about nursing. But I didn’t learn very much about being an ALS provider.

    13) It frustrates me that AEMT’s (at least in my area) are allowed to use nitrous oxide as pain management, and yet I don’t know a single service that uses it. The training almost seems pointless. I’d much rather learn about some sort of analgesic that I can use and that my service would stock.

    Good points. I very much enjoyed this.

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