3 ingredients to survive an EMS career

Getting into EMS isn't all that difficult; staying is where the challenge is

By Sean Eddy

When I started out in EMS, I had no trouble finding tips or advice on things like taking the national registry exam, getting through school, passing my internship and even finding a new job.

It seemed like there was no shortage of people willing to help us rookies get started in our exciting career. Fast-forward several years and I was broke, severely in debt, in terrible shape, depressed, going through divorce and ready to find something .. .anything that wasn‘t EMS. I was convinced that there was simply no way that I could continue working in this field. My internal conflict was that I still had a passion for the job, it was just buried deep beneath all of my personal troubles. I really wanted to stay, I just didn't think it was going to be possible. I looked for the same help that I had when I started, but everyone fell silent when I wanted to know how I could survive this career. The best advice I could get was to either join the fire service or go to nursing school, and both solutions were based solely on a bigger paycheck.


Getting into EMS isn't all that difficult. Staying is where the challenge is. Fast forward to today and I'm debt-free, in the best shape of my life, I have a positive view on life and I LOVE my job. In fact, I love my job so much that I can't see myself doing anything else. I went from nearly leaving my career, to loving it more than ever before. I did this by working diligently toward achieving what I call the three ingredients for surviving a career in EMS: a healthy mind, healthy body and healthy wallet.

1) Healthy Mind

It's not impossible to be a good paramedic when your life is in shambles, but it certainly blocks you from performing to your full potential. When I was at my absolute worst, I was depressed, unhealthy and facing serious financial consequences. My daily goal was to get through the day without emotionally breaking down, finding a way to pay for my next meal, and keeping the banks happy enough to avoid repossession of my car. Do you think for a second that my patient's well-being was on the front of my mind?


It's extremely difficult to take care of others when you need help. Being satisfied with where you are in life (and where you‘re going) is absolutely essential to survival in this field. Life balance, counseling, regular prayer and not allowing your job to be your only identity are great things to focus on.

2) Healthy Body

Being fit and healthy are absolute necessities in this job. We have a mentally and physically demanding job and we owe it to ourselves and our patients to be in the best condition to perform. Does this mean you have to spend seven days a week beating yourself up in a Crossfit gym? Of course not. What you need is regular activity (preferably some form of exercise), a balanced nutrition plan (NOT a diet), and some motivation. You don't even need a gym membership. I've managed to get in the best shape of my life without leaving my living room, starving myself, or doing anything I didn‘t want to do. I found exercise routines that I love, healthy food that I crave and yes, I reward myself here and there with things like beer, pizza, etc. Now I show up to work with tons of energy, a great attitude and my performance has improved more than I thought possible. This stuff isn't just about looking good, it‘s about FEELING good and performing well.


3) Healthy Wallet

As many of you know, I can go on and on with this topic. I won't get too crazy with this, but I will say that pushing my way toward a debt-free life probably single-handedly saved my EMS career. I went from working six days a week to working the bare minimum to keep my full-time employment status. I live small when it comes to expenses and large when it comes to quality of life. When I paid my 9-year-old car off, I didn't go take out a $30,000 note on a fancy pickup truck. Instead, I budgeted that money for things like retirement savings, traveling, and yes, eventually buying another car (with cash, of course).


Learning to live on a strict budget didn't restrict me; it set me free. It put me in control. When I took complete control of my money and started living on far less than I made, my paychecks didn't seem so small. That‘s when I knew that I COULD stick it out in this career. That's when I decided that doing a job that I love was more important than making more money. That's when I started doing EMS because I wanted to, not because I had to. And THAT, my friends, is how you survive a career in EMS.

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