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To stay or to go: Providing care in your hometown

The rewards outweigh the challenges when it comes to serving your own community

CP House call - photo credit Greg Sawyer.jpg

Photo/Eagle County Paramedic Services

It seems to be the new “norm” for providers to travel away from their hometowns just to work. But does it have to be?

After becoming a paramedic, it became obvious that if I wanted to increase my salary, I needed to travel away from my rural hometown. For a few years, I drove 2 hours to work as a ground paramedic. We worked 24/48 shifts – the same as back home – but, for higher pay. But that’s not the only reason why I left.

It’s about more than the money

Growing up in a small town, everyone knows each other. This means, on the majority of the calls you run, you know the patient. My biggest fear has always been arriving on scene and that cardiac arrest, that MVA with entrapment, that DOA is going to be my family member.

Working away from home typically lessens the odds of caring for someone you’re close to. This takes that burden off of you and allows you to feel better on a day-to-day basis at your job. The worry is gone. You show up, do your job and go home. So, when you add increased pay to taking away that fear, it seems like a no brainer; right?

However, you may come to a point – at least I did – where the travel isn’t worth it anymore. The getting up at 4 a.m., driving 2 hours, struggling to stay awake, just wasn’t worth it for me. Your 24-hour shift quickly turns into 28 hours when you include your time on the road.

These long days take a toll on your physical and mental health, as well as your family. When you get to work, you’re already tired. When you get home, all you want to do is sleep. All that fatigue and time away from your family can lead to depression.

Pre-planning and prevention are key to safety and efficiency when your crews are most vulnerable

These are your people

I feel that no matter how much I tried to work away from my town, my home kept calling me back. There’s a sense of pride in taking care of your community. To see the looks on the faces of familiar family members or patients facing the worst day of their lives when you walk in is a game changer. They now feel comfortable knowing the person taking care of their family member or themselves.

Your community is your people. Traveling to work and treating patients you don’t know might make it easier to go from one call to another, but it doesn’t cause you to care less about that person. It does makes it harder to console the families of those in need. Knowing your patient or their family allows you to interact easier and truly be there for them in their time of need, which often goes beyond the actual medical care you provide. Sometimes all it takes is a hug, a nice talk or holding the hand of that patient and letting them know you’re there.

Take care of yourself

What should you do? Do what’s best for you. Maybe you’re able to work away from home and still have the needed family time.

Do I think it allows you to do your job easier by working away and not having to worry about knowing the patient? Yes! Do I think it’s worth it to take that risk and work in your hometown where you may know everyone? Yes!

However, always remember that it’s OK to not be OK. No one in this field is shielded from the mental health effects of this job. Often, I’m asked how I deal with the “bad calls.” As you grow, you’ll learn to treat a patient, then move to the next and so on. As you work closer to home, this may not be so easy. So I challenge you: find that person you can talk to, find the one thing (or more) that you can do to cope. Don’t hold it in. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. We are one team.

EMS on the home front

So, what does running in your rural home town look like?

It’s your community providers banding together during the worst days of your community members. It’s no secret that a lot of rural areas struggle with EMS services and staffing. It’s the genuine providers that live in those communities who make up the difference in staffing issues. When multiple calls ring out, we leave our families to go help another; that’s what it’s all about. I’ve never seen bigger hearts than in those who give up so much to help others in their communities. It’s truly amazing. This is what makes EMS on the home front so special. It becomes more about the heart than the paycheck.

There’s just something about your community. It’s not always about the money, the big promotions or the opportunities. You get into EMS because you genuinely care. This job is about the lives we touch, not the money we make.

Hunter Whetzel is deputy chief/diver with Petersburg Volunteer Fire Company and paramedic/training coordinator for Grant County Ambulance with over 13 years of EMS experience.