In my EMS career, I’ve been very fortunate for two things. One, I’ve had the opportunity to work for some great EMS systems. Two, by virtue of my outside career, I don’t have to rely on EMS to make ends meet or pay the bills. To me, that also means I have an obligation to speak my mind about EMS, especially since many of my colleagues don’t always have the luxury of being able to speak theirs.
Today is one of those days where I’m going to speak my mind and say it as loud as I can. A few moments ago, I saw a social media post from a large EMS publication. The post was entitled “Addressing Ten Harmful Realities of Modern EMS.” Plain and simple, I’m not going to link to it. Here’s why. To be honest with you, this article was written by an EMS consultant who’s been involved in the EMS world for years. The article is published by a major EMS publication.
In short, we’ve got the same usual suspects of the same usual EMS columnists, the same usual people who are on every EMS committee, the same EMS publications, and the same EMS consultants telling how to fix the problems in EMS that, in large part, they’ve helped create and/or perpetuate. At the very least, they’ve been complicit in not addressing them for a damned long time.
The main EMS publications aren’t peer reviewed. They consist largely of reprinting advertisements for products. The “science” they post is largely dated and the truly progressive EMS systems (the ones that aren’t busy tooting their own horns) have been ahead of the curve established by the EMS publications for a long time. I can guarantee the pictures that’ll be shown in the same publications every month: namely a picture of fire-medics somewhere on the East Coast of the US, wearing full bunker gear, working a “scary looking” car wreck, and putting everyone on a backboard. It’s at the point that several of my smarter friends have nicknamed one publication “Backboard Action” and refer to many EMS publications as “backboard porn.” And mind you, the science has been trending away from the spinal motion restriction dogma for a while. Our EMS media isn’t the “conscience of EMS.” It’s little more than a cheerleading section for the self-promoters of EMS.
The article goes on to talk about working conditions in EMS. My friends, this article is written by an advocate for many of the practices that have created these working conditions. If you like poor pay and system status management where you park your ambulance in an abandoned parking lot at 3:00 AM because that’s where the computer predicts coverage is needed, then, by all means, continue listening to the same people try to fix the problems that they’ve created.
The same people who’ve brought us these working conditions are the same people who continue to limit the knowledge base and educational standards of EMS. Whether they use the “poor volunteers” or the fire service as their excuse, they continue to keep the same low standards and low expectations guaranteed to “meet minimal standards” and keep EMS down. If you wonder why the best and brightest leave EMS for nursing or medicine and why the barely competent become EMS managers or educators, look right at the same EMS committee members who continue to pass on the chance to improve our educational standards or knowledge base.
And let’s talk about the medicine. Let’s talk about the science. That gets defined by our professional committee members and celebrity EMS medical directors. Every year, there’s a “Gathering of the Eagles” where a bunch of celebrity EMS physicians present their opinions. The Eagles, in theory, represent the fifty largest EMS systems in the country. Large doesn’t equal great. Far from it. The District of Columbia, New York City, and Los Angeles aren’t exactly renowned for their quality of prehospital care. These presentations have a strong bias toward cardiac arrest. While cardiac arrest is, in part, what EMS was started to fight, cardiac arrests represent a small portion of EMS responses. Cardiac arrest gets studied because “dead” or “not dead” is easy to quantify. Let’s talk about pain management. Let’s talk about airways. And let’s not dumb down the medicine because you have a large system of providers and it’s “too hard” to roll out training or keep quality assurance and quality improvement on “so many medics.”
A special mention to the majority of the EMS conferences as well. I’ve spoken at several, primarily state, conferences. I’ve been fortunate in that these people are usually willing to let me speak my mind on a variety of topics, usually related to the law in EMS. But the national conferences seem to represent many of the problems in EMS as well. Namely, you’ve got “EMS celebrities” presenting topics that are either “fluff” or represent science that is already so well-established that it’s borderline negligence to not already incorporate it in your practice. When speeches entitled “A Pressure Dressing For the Soul” or “Incorporating CPAP into Your Practice” are major speeches, the problem is clear. By making everyone feel good about themselves and their practice of medicine, you may get “butts in the seats” but you’re sure not advancing the profession. Just once, I’d pay good money to have someone present on the Dunning-Kruger effect and its applicability to EMS. Instead, we get feel good platitudes from someone dressed in a uniform that looks like a third world dictator.
In other words, the same people doing the same things in EMS aren’t going to fix it. But I’m optimistic. And here’s why. New people in EMS are stepping up to the plate. They’re recognizing the challenges in EMS. And they’re advancing them, even when the usual gang of idiots tell them it’s pointless. In 2014, two medics, who happen to be friends and inspirations to me, decided that EMS provider suicides were unacceptable. They formed the Code Green Campaign. Several other medics I know also decided to tackle mental health in EMS as well. They formed Reviving Responders. And in 2015, when the Texas Legislature faced opposition from emergency nurses about allowing paramedics to function in the hospital, several Texas medics started talking on social media, shared the news, and formed the Association of Texas EMS Professionals to advocate for Texas EMS in the political arena. The issue is not whether EMS can improve. It clearly can. It’s just time for us to recognize that what Mad Magazine calls “the usual gang of idiots” aren’t going to get us there.
To the younger EMS providers, I say, this is your time. Stand up and lead EMS because the dinosaurs have failed to evolve and are doomed to extinction. There is ZERO reason why EMS can’t become a respected medical profession entrusted to perform advanced assessments and interventions in the prehospital setting. The only thing preventing this is that we’ve selected the wrong leaders. Probably more accurately, we’ve been passive and allowed the wrong people to claim to speak for EMS.
Thank you for reading and for allowing me to be a voice out there.