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Top 9 lies everyone new to EMS should ignore

Don’t believe everything you hear about the profession before starting your career


Two paramedics getting ready to lift a patient into an ambulance.


By Michael Morse, EMS1 Contributor

Most of us begin a career in EMS not knowing what to expect. “Expect the unexpected,” those who came before us would say with a knowing grin. It doesn’t take long before the lies we believed about the job are unveiled by reality.

Here are nine things I thought I knew, that turned out to be not quite true.

1. EMS is easy. Anybody can do it.
Easy? Nothing is easy if you’re doing it right. An EMT doing things incorrectly kills people. Very few people are willing to bear the weight of responsibility for somebody else’s life, especially a stranger. Put a patient in the truck, and it’s you and them, and fifty MPH of road beneath you. Don’t screw up.

2. “When ya save them with Narcan, they’ll puke on ya, then they’ll attack ya”
Bringing a person back from the dead is a pretty satisfying experience for even the most jaded EMS person. I’ve brought hundreds of people back from the brink. With very few exceptions, I’ve found the newly revived are polite, grateful, embarrassed and cooperative. Giving somebody a second chance; not just correcting a mistake they made, but actually being the person responsible for helping them stay alive for another day, should never be minimized. We got into this vocation for a reason, and that reason is staring you right in the face every time you successfully use Narcan. The start of their new life begins the second they lay eyes on you. Saying something stupid to them cheapens the experience. Saying something brilliant is usually lost in the confusion. Stick to something kind and non-judgmental.

3. A little CPR and presto
CPR is great, no doubt about it. However, the first twenty-five or so times I did it were failures. But when I was able to bring back that twenty-sixth guy three months later, I forgot all about the first twenty-five and was ready for the next one. With experience comes acceptance. A person in cardiac arrest needs CPR, and needs it quick. The event is typically fifteen minutes from onset before we arrive on scene. Bystander CPR and rapid defibrillation is the key. We do the best we can, and sometimes the outcome is truly miraculous.

4. Alcohol is a great way to relax and enjoy life.
When 70 percent of your EMS calls are somehow alcohol-related you see real quick just how obnoxious this myth is. The misery caused by people who shouldn’t drink far outweighs the fun to be had by those who can — at least in the eyes of the EMT who has to live with the memories of mangled teens, men in their forties dying from liver disease, assaults, rapes, and other mayhem. Add the risk of the EMT abusing alcohol to deal with the stress, disappointment, and disillusionment that can be a byproduct of an EMS career and the allure of the drink fades away. Be careful, alcohol is a wise and cunning substance waiting to pounce on those of us with addictive tendencies.

5. Every person drives like a moron when an ambulance is approaching.
Actually, the vast majority of people do everything and anything to get out of the way of an approaching emergency vehicle. There are hundreds of vehicles in your path on the way to and from an emergency scene. Try and focus on the vast majority of people who get out of the way, and deal with the few who don’t without doing anything ridiculous. You cannot control the actions of people, all you can control is yourself. When I learned that little secret, driving with lights and sirens became enjoyable, rather than torture.

6. Emergency Room personnel are great looking, fun and love seeing EMS.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the best EMT in the word; we all wear out our welcome, fast. This is especially true if we do our job half-assed and don’t respect the people we bring our problems to. Imagine dealing with the public, many of whom are frequent flyers, abusive patients and good, hardworking people cut down in the prime of their life by accidents, medical emergencies and the unknown. Then imagine doing so under bright fluorescent lights without the luxury of leaving, grabbing a coffee on the way back to the station and catching a snooze.

7. EMS = earn money sleeping
If I had a dollar for every hour of uninterrupted sleep I managed in nearly twenty-five years of EMS work, I wouldn’t have many dollars.

As for earning money? Most EMTs work for private ambulance companies. The only people earning real money are the people who own them. Fire department-based EMS makes a career out of a job, in most cases. It is far more difficult to make ends meet working for a private company, but it’s not impossible.

8. EMTs get hardened by what they see and can handle emotional trauma better than the general public.
Nobody gets used to seeing terrible things. Some people can hide their feelings better than others. Others have no idea that what they are feeling is slowly eating them alive; they think it’s normal to feel like the weight of the world is crushing them. It’s not normal, and the only “hard” EMT is in all probability more brittle than hard.

9. The most important word in Emergency Medical Services is “emergency.”
As long as we believe that our primary reason for being EMTs is responding to emergencies we will have difficulty with this profession. “Mobile” Medical Services is a far more fitting moniker. Every time we respond to a medical call, where we are disappointed at the non-emergent nature of the situation, resentment overtakes compassion.

The best way to find satisfaction with a career in EMS is to eliminate preconceived notions about what the job entails. Nothing is as exciting as we imagine it to be. EMS is real. EMS is mostly boring routine. But sprinkled among that day-to-day grind is people. By focusing on the people that cross our path, and connecting with those who depend on us, EMS becomes far more than a job, and ultimately can, and should be a satisfying experience. What is essential is to keep your expectations grounded in reality.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.
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