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Different job – same career

5 ways to expand your options and forge your EMS career


Not so many years ago, working shifts on the ambulance was about the only EMS job there was. Things have changed, and much like nursing, there are now more and more opportunities outside of the rig to make a living in our chosen field.

Photo/Idaho State University

It is no secret that the healthcare industry is in a staffing crunch. Many are leaving the nursing, EMS and other allied health professions and I hope this article catches you before you make the same jump. [At the end of this article, print out a career health checklist to gauge your investment in yourself]

I was writing a quick bio to submit for speaking at a recent conference when it dawned on me how many different EMS-related roles I have held over the last 30 years. They say variety is the spice of life. Is my “well-seasoned” career the reason I am still in EMS?

Not so many years ago, working shifts on the ambulance was about the only EMS job there was. Things have changed, and much like nursing, there are now more and more opportunities outside of the rig to make a living in our chosen field. The key, though, is to prepare yourself for those roles before you get to the point of dreading every shift and spending time between calls combing the job postings for a new gig.

Here are a few of the steps I took over the years to expand my horizons and make myself more eligible for other roles.

1. Education

One of the first things I started doing while working my first paramedic job was to keep seeking education. Just look around. There is more of it out there than you think and much of it is free.

And I don’t just mean your required refresher courses; stretch your wings and soak up material outside of your scope of practice. Sure, maybe you won’t ever administer that drug, do that procedure or interpret that CT scan, but knowing a little more about how other fields within medicine work is never a bad thing.

Look for non-clinical topics, too. The list of choices is endless. Don’t overlook opportunities to learn communication and technical skills, including the use of new software, social media platforms and web applications.


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2. Networking

While we may be in the era of social networking, it still takes some deliberate effort to meet new people and get connected. You never know which of your next introductions will lead you to an opportunity you never imagined.

Next time you see me, ask how I got to know Lexipol Editorial Director Greg Friese and how that connection has shaped my career.

3. Conferences

Attending EMS conferences may be a combination of education and networking, but they can also be much more. My favorite benefit is the boost of excitement for our industry I get each time I go – excitement not only for the cool new stuff I see in the expo hall, or the information shared in the educational session, but for the brilliant and motivated minds we have in EMS. There really are some great people in the business and a bright future ahead if we can all continue to work together.

While I enjoy heading to the big national conferences, don’t miss out on the many excellent state, regional and even local conferences that are held all around the country throughout the year.

4. Get involved

Make an effort to get involved in the business around you. Yes, that may mean going to a few meetings and sitting on a committee or two, but doing so is a great way to meet people, learn about the industry and contribute to changes.

Start small by being active on work groups within your department or company, but also seek out groups like local government oversight committees, regional trauma councils, state EMS committees and boards, labor organizations, etc. They may not all be your cup of tea, but you don’t have to be on them forever and the experience gained – and introductions made – will be worth it.

5. Read the news

I don’t recommend watching the 24-hour news channels all day, but I do promote keeping abreast of international, national, local and industry news. Skim the politics off the top and get a sense of what is really going on at each level to have a better idea of what jobs may be hot in the next few years and what skills you may need to have to compete for them.

6. Work-life balance

While finding a good work-life balance may be seen more as a way to preserve your mental health and affinity for the career, it is also important for preparing you for other jobs in the business. It may even help you discover a skill you did not know that you had or a way to combine a hobby with something in EMS to develop a new product or service. Sometimes, the best ideas come to you when you are least expecting them.

I hope these ideas help you prepare for the next step in your EMS journey. It is truly a rewarding and honorable career choice, and we need each and every one of you to continue to meet the healthcare needs of our populations.

Stay safe out there.

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Michael Fraley has over 30 years of experience in EMS in a wide range of roles, including flight paramedic, EMS coordinator, service director and educator. Fraley began his career in EMS while earning a bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University. He also earned a BA in business administration from Lakeland College. When not working as a paramedic or the coordinator of a regional trauma advisory council, Michael serves as a public safety diver and SCUBA instructor in northern Wisconsin.