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10 best reasons to join, and stay, in EMS

The author’s alternative to his own 10-worst list


I enjoyed most of my 20 years in the field and rarely regretted my mid-life decision to become a paramedic.


After reading “10 worst reasons for joining EMS,” Chris Maldonado suggested I do a companion piece about the 10 best reasons – a pretty good idea if you ask me. My editor agreed.

Cataloging the good parts of EMS should come naturally to me. I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy who’d rather say something nice than nasty. Besides, I enjoyed most of my 20 years in the field and rarely regretted my mid-life decision to become a paramedic. So why has it been so hard for me to come up with positives?

I suppose I could blame EMS for siphoning my spirit. Decades of low pay, disabling injuries and little respect from the public can make a person hypercritical. Getting indignant doesn’t help resolve the underlying supply-and-demand issues, though.

Or maybe it’s the media’s fault for publishing all those negative stories about the least impressive members of our profession. Considering I’m part of the media, that’s kind of a stretch.

Whatever the reason for my recent cynicism, I don’t want to keep writing just about what’s broken. EMS providers who read my stuff are entitled to something more constructive. Those just getting started, in particular, shouldn’t be urged to bail before they have a chance to immerse themselves in the workplace and evaluate the degree of badness they’re facing. We’re in the problem-solving business, folks; I don’t want to detract from whatever optimism is proximal to that.

To all the men and women new to EMS, and those choosing to stay, here’s why I think most of you are making the right choice:

  1. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder.
    Once the bus leaves the bay, you and your partner are pretty much on your own. Yes, you have to answer the radio when someone calls, and GPS isn’t going to let you get away with side trips to the tanning salon, but you have so much more freedom than the average working stiff. Trust me, I spent years on the other side where bosses prowled factory floors, looking for trifles to micro manage. Revel in the relative autonomy of emergent care.

  2. You’re not behind a desk.
    Speaking of corporate America, where would it be without the noble desk, behind which white-collar workers spend many of their most useful years. Yes, climate-controlled environments have advantages, especially for those who measure achievement in square feet of office space. Once I swapped my swivel chair for an ambulance bench, I was much happier.
  3. You can start training at 16 and work at 18.
    When I was 16, I was pretty far from figuring out how to make a living. Nobody would pay me to play pick-up hockey, so I settled for a major in industrial engineering. If I’d had the same lifelong interest in the essential services as many of you, I could have started working on my EMT certification at 16 and would have known by 17, instead of 39, what I really wanted to do.
  4. You’ll meet interesting people every day.
    I made a snarky remark in my 10-worst list about meeting people whose diseases might be the most interesting things about them, but I didn’t really mean that. Okay, I meant it, but only in a clinical sense. I have many, many good memories of partners and patients – people who taught me more about the human condition and my place in the universe than any professor could have.
  5. EMS builds self-confidence.
    I’ll never forget my first shift as something that resembled an EMS provider: I was dispatching at the volunteer agency I’d just joined when multiple calls came in concurrently. Even if I’d been able to understand all the radio chatter, trying to multitask without big-picture perspective made me feel worthless and weak. I almost didn’t show up for my next shift. Once I started doing hands-on care, though, my confidence soared like the stock market and I stuck around for a whole career.
  6. There’s steady work.
    If you’re a paramedic who grasps the difference between famous and infamous, you’ll likely stay employed as long as you wish. The demand for relatively cheap labor will outlive us all.
  7. EMS prepares you for advancement – somewhere.
    Although promotions from the ambulance to the front office aren’t options for most of us, EMS experience is nice to have on your résumé regardless of what you do next. Lots of people hiring in other industries wish they’d been medics even if they don’t want to be medics.
  8. You can polish your skills by volunteering.
    I’ve heard folks in EMS put volunteers down because unpaid helpers don’t exist in other professions. I see volunteering as a pro, not a con. I know lots of people who started that way, including some who discovered prehospital care wasn’t for them. The world needs more inherently good acts like volunteering.
  9. Sometimes you’ll make a difference.
    If you truly buy into that “sometimes” part, not only will you be a lot less disappointed day to day; you’ll also appreciate so much more the times you do make a difference.
  10. The money helps.
    How is it possible to include money on a list of reasons to join EMS? Try counting the number of occupations that routinely pay more than $20 per hour plus benefits to young adults without any college credits.

Thanks again for the inspiration, Chris.

Mike Rubin is a paramedic in Nashville, Tennessee. A former faculty member at Stony Brook University, Mike has logged 28 years in EMS after 18 in the corporate world as an engineer, manager and consultant. He created the EMS version of Trivial Pursuit and produced Down Time, a collection of rescue-oriented rock and pop tunes. Contact him at