5 things I wish I knew in EMT school

Learning and understanding five things about EMS and life saved my career and gave my life more meaning


By Sean Eddy

I did a lot of research before I made the decision to start my EMS career. Actually, I was rather obsessive over it. I spoke to tons of people who had been doing it for years. I received all kinds of advice about school, NREMT testing and what to learn. What nobody seemed to mention were the key things I would need to know to actually sustain my career and not allow it to destroy my life.

It took me a long time to realize that if I wanted to do this line of work, I had to take measures to safeguard my personal life. Fortunately, I figured it out before it was too late, but I sure got close to calling it quits and moving on.

Before you make EMS your life know what you are getting into. (Photo/Greg Friese)
Before you make EMS your life know what you are getting into. (Photo/Greg Friese)

Learning and understanding the five things listed below not only saved my career, but set me up to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

1. This Job Does Not Identify Me

For the longest time, I felt like my sole purpose in life was to punch the time clock and sit in an ambulance. I wasn‘t just me anymore. I was a paramedic. Like many of us, I allowed my job to steal my identity. The problem with this mindset is that we open ourselves up to an emotional dilemma should we ever choose to leave or be forced to leave.

Instead of saying “I‘m a paramedic," I now say, “I work as a paramedic.” I don‘t allow my job to define who I am anymore, and as a result, EMS is no longer something I am, it‘s something I do, and THAT makes all the difference.

2. Employment is a Two-Way Agreement

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard an employer remind me how easily we could be replaced. Unfortunately, for a time I took this to heart and allowed this mentality to rob my self-value. Putting ourselves in a position of feeling inferior to someone simply because they sign a check can really damage our self-esteem. This is unfortunately very common in public safety and while we should always be grateful for what we have, we also need to remind ourselves of the value that we provide to those who employ us.

The truth is, yes, I CAN easily be replaced by my employer, but I can just as easily replace my employer. We provide a service in exchange for compensation. It‘s a two-way agreement. I agree to show up and do my job to the best of my abilities and my employer agrees to provide compensation and working conditions that I deem acceptable. If either party doesn‘t hold up their end of the bargain, then the agreement is terminated. It‘s extremely important for us to have standards and values, just as our employers do. I just wish I had known that several years ago.

3. I Control My Money, My Money Doesn‘t Control Me

I spent the majority of my career chasing the dollar. I was living a lifestyle that couldn‘t be supported by my wages without overtime. I did things like work crazy overtime, and jump on any advancement opportunity I could as long as it meant I made more money. I was allowing my money and my lifestyle to effectively control my life. That‘s a terrible position to be in! Unfortunately, it‘s reality for many of us. One of the biggest problems is, the overtime that‘s available to us enables us to continue making financial mistakes.

Before we know it, work becomes our new home and home becomes a stopping place between shifts.

I took control by sticking to a written budget, eliminating debt and adjusting my lifestyle to match my wages WITHOUT any overtime. I completely understand that some people‘s essential needs necessitate overtime, but we all owe it to ourselves to make sure that we are telling our money where to go, not wondering where it went.

4. Nothing is More Valuable than My Time

This really goes along with the previous principle. My time has value and the more I allow people to cut into it, the less valuable it becomes. In order to really enjoy our careers, we have to create a healthy balance. We need to make time for the things we enjoy in life. For me, it‘s things like my children, writing and music. THESE are the things that identify us, not our paychecks.

5. I‘m Not as Tough as I Think I Am

Many of us lie to ourselves and pretend that this job doesn‘t impact our emotional well-being. That‘s simply not true. It affects us in ways we don‘t completely understand. Things like tragedy and chaos can certainly take its toll on us, but that‘s not even half of it. Dealing with rude patients, demanding employers, burned-out hospital staff and even disgruntled coworkers can really do some emotional damage and negatively change our outlook on life.

It took me time to realize this and even longer to admit it, but once I did, I started to see my line of work in a very refreshing way. I‘m not afraid to admit that I attend counseling sessions every week. It‘s one hour per week that I can literally talk about anything I want with absolutely no fear of backfire or offending someone. It‘s MY time and it works wonders.

This article, originally published on Feb. 18, 2014, has been updated

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