What should EMS providers know about, besides EMS?

EMS1 readers share their non-clinical interests, subjects for further study and their biggest job-related concerns


We asked EMS1 readers three poll questions about what EMTs and paramedic should know besides EMS. Here is some demographic information for the 612 people who responded to the survey:

  • Half are 30-50 years old.
  • Two-thirds are male.
  • Half are paramedics.
  • A third have less than five years’ experience.
  • Most (59%) have at least an Associate’s degree.
  • About half are married with children.

Here is what we learned.

Psychology was the most mentioned academic subject EMS providers should know more about.
Psychology was the most mentioned academic subject EMS providers should know more about.

1. Small talk with patients is about family and work
The first question asked, "Which of the following non-medical topics do you most often discuss with your patients?"

Family (83 percent) and occupation/employment (60 percent) were the most common subjects by far, with sports a distant third (32 percent) among caregivers 50 or younger.

Occupation/employment small talk was particularly popular among the under-30 age group. Men were much more likely than women to talk sports; women made up that gap by discussing family with patients more often.

According to our respondents, money, religion and politics are rarely raised with patients.

2. Back to school for psychiatry and science training
The second question asked, "What academic subjects should EMS providers be most familiar with?"

Psychology (75 percent) and science (60 percent), mentioned most often, seem like good subjects for further study by paramedics and EMTs. Psychology isn’t covered much in EMS courses despite its relevance to patient care, and sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology can help EMS providers better understand why therapies work the way they do.

Also popular, at 41 percent each, were foreign languages and math.

Although foreign languages are more often electives than requirements in U.S. public schools, it would be hard to argue the advantage American EMS providers gain by mastering simple conversation in common languages other than English.

Fractions, decimals, the metric system and basic algebra are everyday skills which are particularly useful to paramedics. Caregivers with a solid foundation in math are presumably less likely to make medication errors.

Foreign languages and science were mentioned much more frequently by caregivers under 30 than those over 50. The opposite was true of history.

Math and history were significantly more popular with the most experienced caregivers who responded. Foreign languages drew many more responses from relative newcomers to EMS.

Psychology was more popular with women, while men preferred history.

3. EMS providers worry about money, sleep and getting hurt
The final question asked, "What are your top EMS job-related concerns?"

There was no clear winner for this question. Fatigue, finances and injury/disability were each mentioned by approximately half the respondents, although finances wasn’t as big an issue for caregivers older than 50. Professional or career advancement was also less important to that age group.

A serious discussion about reducing fatigue would have to weigh the convenience of 24-hour or even 48-hour shifts against the danger of dispatching drowsy crews to critical calls.

The concern about finances could be just as much about managing money as having more of it. Living within one’s means — a no-brainer for some — can be a challenge for folks who’ve never learned to set and stick to simple budgets.

Minor injuries may be inevitable in EMS, but the chances of long-term, disabling injuries can be reduced through continued ergonomic improvements like powered stretchers, equipment miniaturization and more logical ambulance layouts. Also important is judicious use of speed and other defensive driving skills during response and transport.

Paramedics, particularly those married and over 50, were twice as preoccupied with retirement as EMTs.

Advancement and continued employment were mentioned much more frequently by men, while women were more concerned about violence and coworker behavior.

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