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The Ambulance Driver's Perspective
by Kelly Grayson

How to be a TV medic in 10 easy steps

Follow these useful tips and you can parlay your Hollywood street cred into a new career as a technical advisor on an EMS show

By Kelly Grayson

It was 3:24 in the morning, and I was kneeling on a full-motion waterbed in a sweltering mobile home, with only a dim lamp for illumination. Praying fervently that the warm, damp spot under my left knee was a leaky mattress, but knowing I couldn't be that lucky, I asked the woman on the bed The Mother Of All Dumb Questions:

"So Ma'am, what seems to be the problem this morning?"

Given that she looked like she had swallowed a watermelon, was panting like a winded racehorse and cursing like the little girl on The Exorcist, she understandably looked at me like I had lost my mind.

"Oh, nothing much," she answered with exaggerated politeness, "I just got lonely and figured you might like to play a little gin rummy. What the hell does it look like I'm doing?"

Okay, so I'm not real quick on the uptake at oh-dark-thirty in the morning, but I quickly recovered, put on my inscrutable paramedic face, and sent my partner to the rig for the obstetrical kit.

Seeking to gather a little resuscitation-oriented history and reestablish myself as someone worthy of respect and trust, a confident and capable practitioner of the art of prehospital emergency care, I smiled reassuringly and asked her the only question that could make me look even dumber:

"So, are you having contractions right now?"

Yeah, not my finest moment.

The words that came out of her mouth after that aren't fit for print in a professional publication, but let's just say that normally people have to actually meet my mother before making such judgments, and if Marine Corps drill instructors ever need someone to teach Creative Profanity 101, she could make R. Lee Ermey look like my Sunday school teacher.

While I was delivering her baby, she kept asking me when the real paramedics were going to get there. What with the motion of the bed making it difficult to avoid doing a face plant into her vagina, telling her that I was the best she was going to get just seemed like adding insult to injury. Luckily, training took over, and with nothing else to say besides urging her to push, I managed to avoid further embarrassment.

After the call, it occurred to me that if I had looked and acted more like a Hollywood medic, I'd have had instant credibility no matter what stupidity escaped my lips. After all, how else to explain NBC's Trauma lasting for 18 episodes?

On that note, I give you the Top Ten Ways to Look Like a Hollywood Medic:

Have a tailor on retainer. Never mind that uniforms are made to fit average body types. Never mind that they should be cut loose enough to allow a wide range of physical activities. If your flight suit doesn't showcase your marvelously sculpted butt or your uniform shirt doesn't look like it was sprayed on over your pecs and biceps, no one will ever believe you're a real medic.

Be sexy. It's not enough for you to know it, unmarried males 18-35 with disposable income need to know it, too. That means you look your best on shift, and never have bed hair or dragon breath.

So ladies, whenever you can, show off your cleavage. Nothing says, "I am a caring and highly trained professional" quite like dangling your décolletage in your male patient's face while you check his pupils. Next time you really need medical control orders, nothing works quite as well as a seductive purr over the radio that makes the doctor feel as if he should be paying $3.95 a minute to hear you ask for a dopamine drip.

And guys, never miss a chance to show off your chiseled abs. Only chumps wait until they get to the ED to scrub that bloodstain off their shirt. You're a Hollywood medic. Rip that sucker off and show off your physique as you code-surf the stretcher into the Emergency Department. Nurses swoon over that stuff. More importantly, so do female viewers.

Never do transfers. Hollywood medics only do 911, baby, and they all work for the fire department. Moreover, Hollywood medics only get the good 911 calls. They never get sent to ingrown toenails 5 minutes from shift change, or asked to take a dialysis patient home from her appointment.

So next time the dispatcher sends you on a transfer or minor emergency, refuse the assignment on the grounds that such mundane calls are not worthy of the television drama that is your life.

Afterward, you'll have all the free time you need to make your way to Hollywood and try to get hired at one of those fire departments. Don't forget to have them forward your unemployment checks.

Talk to your patients. I'm not talking about explaining procedures to them, or obtaining a history, or offering reassurance. Heck, everyone does that. No, the Hollywood medic will grip the patient's hand and urge them to fight, don't give up, and hang on sweetie, you're gonna be okay.

If you don't do that, they'll have no reason to wake up from their cardiac arrest, gaze up at you gratefully through tear-filled eyes, and whisper, "Thank you." Which brings us to…

Ignore your instincts. Like, for example, the fact that the patient in #7 managed to mouth those words around an endotracheal tube. Just go with it. Viewers don't care about things like end tidal capnography and unrecognized esophageal intubation. And they were probably too busy looking at your cleavage to notice that you held the laryngoscope in your right hand anyway.

Be a failed doctor. Everyone knows that nobody in their right mind chooses to be a medic. We're all working on ambulances because we're still emotionally crippled from losing that little old lady during our third year of emergency medicine residency, or we're rebelling against a domineering father who just happens to be chief of medical staff at Mercy General.

Sure, if you're a bit player, you might work your way through nursing or law school as a medic, but if you want to be a star, you've got to be the failed doctor in search of redemption.

Gravitas. Lots and lots and lots of gravitas. Ignore all that stuff you learned in school about how the better you do your job, the less exciting it is. No one will ever know what a superb medic you are if you make it look too easy, and your patients can't be properly grateful unless they know just how close to death they were. So ditch the smile, and adopt a scowl. Forget cracking a joke to lighten the tension, or being polite to your fellow crew members. Learn to bark orders, and say things like, "Let's move, people!"

Learn to use your safety glasses for dramatic effect, just like David Caruso uses his shades on CSI: Miami. And don't forget to stare pensively into the distance afterwards. The pensive look gets 'em every time.

Don't sweat, glisten. A thin sheen of perspiration on your forehead is acceptable, sweat stains under your armpits are not. Neither is letting sweat roll off your nose onto your patient while you're doing CPR. The only time you're allowed to look less than daisy fresh is if you're doing something heroic, like performing a field amputation of the pregnant woman trapped in the structural collapse, and even then you shouldn't do more than glisten.

If you feel yourself beginning to sweat, yell "Cut!" and have the makeup girl on your code team gently blot your brow until you can resume the resuscitation in style.

Have a fatal flaw, or charming personality quirk. Emotionally stable, well-adjusted people went out of style with The Cosby Show. Viewers want characters with human frailties, and never more so than when that character is the guy they called for Grandpa's heart attack. If you're a problem gambler or substance abuser with anger management issues, you're on the right track. Even better, try hallucinating your dead cousin at inopportune times, like when you're boinking his wife. And speaking of boinking…

Sex, lots and lots of sex. Preferably, in the ambulance, but a quickie in the stockroom with an ER nurse or doctor will do. Sex with a patient is even better, professional distance be damned. Every television viewer knows that we're all rutting like weasels in between calls, so here's your chance to join the Code Three Club.

Try to ignore the bloody fingerprints someone missed on the bottom of the cabinetry, and shut out that voice in your head that wonders how much MRSA you're being exposed to. Just lie back on the stretcher, get your groove on, and remember…

… look sexy!

Follow these useful tips and not only will your patients, peers, and partners show you greater respect, but you can parlay your Hollywood street cred into a new career as a technical advisor on an EMS show!

Got any of your own tips for becoming a TV medic? Chime in with your comments below.

About the author

Kelly Grayson, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P, is a critical care paramedic in Louisiana. He has spent the past 18 years as a field paramedic, critical care transport paramedic, field supervisor and educator. He is a former president of the Louisiana EMS Instructor Society and board member of the LA Association of Nationally Registered EMTs.

He is a frequent EMS conference speaker and contributor to various EMS training texts, and is the author of the popular blog A Day In the Life of an Ambulance Driver. The paperback version of Kelly's book is available at booksellers nationwide. You can follow him on Twitter (@AmboDriver) or Facebook (, or email him at

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Adam Berwid Adam Berwid Saturday, May 24, 2014 4:41:44 PM Make sure to never do post move-ups. Nothing screams "normal medic" more than endless hours and miles of driving around the county in circles.
Christine Wicks Simmons Christine Wicks Simmons Saturday, May 24, 2014 6:05:00 PM Your humor makes my life a better place. Thank you.
George Cazares George Cazares Saturday, May 24, 2014 11:21:06 PM You forgot screaming into the heavens when CPR fails and the kid with his entire future ahead of him dies. Oh, and make sure it's raining. If not, have the fire guys spray their hoses in the air.
David Hoadley David Hoadley Sunday, May 25, 2014 5:48:34 AM Code 3 to and from every scene, of course. Why would they give you those big powerful trucks with the pretty-lights-and-music system if you weren't supposed to blow every stop light on the way to a four-day-old stomach ache?
Lisa DeRosa Chaney Lisa DeRosa Chaney Sunday, May 25, 2014 7:06:39 AM THANK YOU...after a VERY L O N G 24 hour shift...this just made my day!...I can't stop laughing :-)
Gary Huntress Gary Huntress Sunday, May 25, 2014 7:18:55 AM Remember EMS is all about teamwork. So your team must have the Showpiece central character, the quickwitted and always shorter sidekick character, and the deep, sardonic, misunderstood character. Oh and don't forget the quick tempered Supervisor character!
Stephen Hudspeth Stephen Hudspeth Sunday, May 25, 2014 9:41:32 AM My day is going to be so much better now.
Holly Rosas Holly Rosas Sunday, May 25, 2014 2:34:41 PM How about perfect push ups at every post change..
Gary A. Rainer Gary A. Rainer Sunday, May 25, 2014 4:03:27 PM Don't forget to call your patient dead after only ten chest compressions!
Jim Sutton Jim Sutton Friday, May 30, 2014 5:55:19 AM Defibrillating asystole.....the public demands we shock asystole, while hollering "come on, don't let go!"
Heidi M Fischer Heidi M Fischer Thursday, September 25, 2014 6:57:15 PM Thanks for the humour - haven't laughed so much in a long time, but now going back to practising that pensive look for my next job ;)
Krista Howard Krista Howard Thursday, September 25, 2014 7:10:09 PM If the ambulance is a rockin...
Ed Hillenbrand Ed Hillenbrand Thursday, September 25, 2014 7:21:01 PM Forgot to scream for the paddles which I haven't used since they retired the Caddies, and then command the DRT: "LIVE! Damn it!"
Nj Mosley Nj Mosley Thursday, September 25, 2014 7:39:17 PM Number 11 when pt gets Narcan they just get right up and walk away.
Jewel Reierson Jewel Reierson Thursday, September 25, 2014 7:43:01 PM Tooooooo funny!!!
Joy DeForest Hutchinson Joy DeForest Hutchinson Thursday, September 25, 2014 8:04:31 PM Love your blogs!
Terri Tuohy-Gibb Terri Tuohy-Gibb Thursday, September 25, 2014 8:20:57 PM Dont forget to throw the word 'STAT' in at regular intervals
Terri Tuohy-Gibb Terri Tuohy-Gibb Thursday, September 25, 2014 8:21:05 PM Dont forget to throw the word 'STAT' in at regular intervals
Nathan Davis Nathan Davis Thursday, September 25, 2014 8:47:45 PM *Regardless of what the injury was that caused death, a patient can always be brought back with a de-fib. Cardiac arrest, large calibre fire arms, high speed MVA's, a defib is like the hand of god. *You'll always have time after a call to hang out in the hospital. Chat to the nurses, go up stairs and see that angst ridden cancer kid whom you gave sage advise to last week, or cruise the street looking for that young street kid who tried to steal stuff from your ambulance that has just lost his way.
Carol Cutbirth Brookshire Carol Cutbirth Brookshire Thursday, September 25, 2014 9:45:31 PM Brilliant!
Elizabeth Oakes Elizabeth Oakes Thursday, September 25, 2014 10:57:23 PM Loved this guy educating out refresher class on airway.
Prudencio Ferdz Salado Avecilla Prudencio Ferdz Salado Avecilla Thursday, September 25, 2014 11:31:12 PM I have to share this....
John Buckner John Buckner Friday, September 26, 2014 1:15:30 AM Awesome, I'll get on this tomorrow LOL Thanks for the humor.
Cindy-Cardona Hicks Cindy-Cardona Hicks Friday, September 26, 2014 6:34:13 AM Aren't you supposed to yell out vitals signs as rush through the er doors?
Andy W Andy W Friday, September 26, 2014 9:18:20 AM Bravo. One of your best.
Allen Bryant Allen Bryant Friday, September 26, 2014 10:38:24 AM Learn how to use a corkscrew to relieve intracranial's in all the protocol books as a standing order....isn't it??
Mike Price Mike Price Friday, September 26, 2014 11:06:18 AM If you look professional and act it the patients will let you do anything.
Ashley Raymond Ashley Raymond Friday, September 26, 2014 7:56:21 PM Popping the caps off those pre-loads Johnny and Roy style!
Jim Laning Jim Laning Friday, September 26, 2014 9:15:25 PM Guilty!
Susan Brandenburg Pearson Susan Brandenburg Pearson Friday, September 26, 2014 9:19:28 PM OMG that is soooooo true; must share
Tom Mundy Tom Mundy Friday, September 26, 2014 10:19:00 PM how many CEU's is this worth
David Englund David Englund Saturday, September 27, 2014 7:23:00 AM So anyways back in reality land....
Leslie H Bruce Leslie H Bruce Saturday, September 27, 2014 9:38:57 AM Love this!
Nanang Sugiarto Nanang Sugiarto Saturday, September 27, 2014 4:36:42 PM woow good article...thanks
John Hinshaw John Hinshaw Sunday, September 28, 2014 7:13:20 AM I've noticed that if you yell at someone who is in cardiac arrest loud enough they will snap out of it.

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