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The ultimate pre-shift EMS routine

How we start our day matters


Whether you’re waking up for a day or night shift, these tips will help you get off on the right foot.

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Whether you’re waking at home or at the station, it’s important to consider how what we do in the first hour of our day impacts how we show up for the rest of our day. Over the last couple years, I’ve been doing research on how various morning routines make me feel throughout the day. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t.

Whether you’re waking up for a day or night shift, these tips will help you get off on the right foot. Here are my recommendations for a self-care focused high performing EMS morning routine.

1. No cell phones or computers for the first hour of the day

Looking at your email or social media account in the first minutes of your day has the power to influence your mood and thoughts, and potentially derail you from your start-the-day rituals. You never know what will be waiting for you in these accounts.

Spend the first hour of your day cultivating positive vibes and pouring into yourself before giving away your energy to other people and things. If it helps, leave your phone outside of your reach.

Jay Shetty has a great podcast about his morning routine where he discusses his journey to success and leaving his devices alone for the first hour of the morning.

Of course, the exception here would be supervisors or on-call platforms where you may need to check for urgent messages.

2. Make your bed

There’s neurobiology research connecting the psychological benefits of making your bed first thing after waking up. This simple act sets the tone for the day by providing a sense of accomplishment right away. If you are arriving for a 24-hour shift, making your bed first thing pays off and sets you up for the day. This way, if you have a busy shift, your bed will be waiting for you to get some much-needed rest.

3. Drink 16 oz. of water

Grab your water before your grab your coffee, tea or Monster. It’s essential to hydrate our bodies once we wake. Our cells function much better with water available. Lewis Howes has a few podcasts covering this concept. He does a great job of delving into the many benefits of drinking water, which is paramount for us as first responders to avoid fatigue. Don’t stop at 16 oz.; drinking water throughout the day will mitigate dehydration and fatigue.

4. Meditate

Try to set aside 5-10 minutes to clear your mind through meditation. Mediation brings us more awareness and connects us to our thoughts. There are many health benefits associated with meditation.

A couple apps that can assist with meditation practices are Headspace or Calm. There are also first responder apps designed to help us relax on and off shift, and practice mindfulness, like the Cordico Wellness apps. A meditation app I’ve used for relaxation on shift is Provider Resilience.

If you’re waking at the station, it may be better to meditate when you get home, or, if you’ve been awake for 24 hours, it may be best to practice your mediation after you’ve rested.

5. Eat nutritious foods

This will be different for each person, however, avoiding foods high in sugar and additives is important. Fuel your body with whole, unprocessed foods in the morning to give you energy.

A good rule is to incorporate a carbohydrate, good fat and protein in every meal. This will mean preparing your breakfast at home or first thing in the morning on shift. Having meals available that are easy to prepare will be essential for success. Stock your station refrigerator weekly, so you have options at the station ready to prepare. If you’re drinking coffee, choosing high quality coffee, and quality creamers and flavor enhancers that don’t slow you down.

6. Learn

Read a chapter from your current self-development book or spend 20-30 minutes reading articles from your favorite journal or professional outlet. My personal go-to is listening to a podcast on my way to the station. This always helps me arrive inspired and refreshed for those calls waiting. Whatever you choose, be sure you are regularly sharpening your saw.

7. Move

Depending on how your day is structured, you may be able to fit exercise in at different times. I’ve experimented with many types of routines. The 5 a.m. workout, the 7 a.m., and the after-I-arrive-to-work-at-the-station workout. Find what works best for you and your schedule.

Two pieces of advice I can offer: hire a trainer to hold you accountable throughout the week and choose a timeframe that allows enough time to enjoy and relax while doing your workout. I will say, one of my favorite ways to relax on shift was doing a high intensity workout outside in the warmer months. Even interrupted, it was always well worth it to move.

8. Dream and set goals

We are generally the most inspired and filled with positive energy after a good sleep. The early hours of our day are the best time to be daring and think big. It’s a good time of day to set aside a few moments to review your progress and set goals for the month, year, etc.

If you’re waking at the station, this is a good time to set your intentions for the week and get your administrative goals/deliverables up on a white board or outlined in a notebook.

9. Set yourself set up the night before

Getting your things packed and ready to go helps to create successful mornings. Starting your day smooth and seamless sets the tone for the day. If you prep your food and have it packed and ready to go, you’ve set yourself up for success. Having things in order and providing plenty of time before shift decreases stress and contributes to a productive day.

The power of strong habits can do amazing things for us personally and professionally. A well-established routine helps us conquer our high stress and often unpredictable EMS days.


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Andrea is the owner and author of The EMS Professional. With over 20 years of EMS industry experience in various leadership roles, including field training officer, supervisor, quality assurance and compliance manager, EMS director and programs management, Andrea is skilled in system management, training, education, administration and project management. She has work experience in frontier, rural, suburban, and urban EMS systems.

In addition to her leadership experience, she brings years of experience working in the ambulance and emergency department. Andrea holds her National Registry Paramedic license, Community Paramedic certification and Instructor Coordinator license in addition to her formal education and degrees. Her unique consulting approach is detailed, honest and highly personalized. Andrea offers a variety of EMS leadership and wellness courses to EMS agencies and departments. She’s an avid blogger, national speaker, podcaster and consultant. You can contact her at: