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Six EMS traits that fit Coast Guard health services careers

The qualities EMTs and paramedics need for success on the job translate well to the branch’s HS role

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With a mission to protect the health of service members and their families, USCG HSs gain expanded skills and experience in areas beyond the standard EMS curriculum, including wound care, delivering vaccinations, conducting lab tests and x-rays and even performing minor surgeries.

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EMTs and paramedics are essential to the health and safety of our communities, but their jobs aren’t easy. Answering a steady stream of 911 calls is hard on the body, emotionally taxing and difficult on the family. EMS work poses an elevated rate of injuries and illnesses and a heightened risk of job-related death. It can take a mental toll too.

Fortunately, the skill sets of EMS providers apply quite well to a growing range of alternative careers. With just a bit of supplemental education, EMTs and paramedics who are reconsidering the rigors of field work can pursue employment in a variety of related medical roles, such as nurses or physician assistants, or even tangential to health care in areas like childcare, medical equipment sales/repair and health information technology.

They are especially well suited to serve their country. One feasible way to do that is by becoming a Health Services Technician (HS) for the U.S. Coast Guard.

With a mission to protect the health of service members and their families, USCG HSs gain expanded skills and experience in areas beyond the standard EMS curriculum, including wound care, delivering vaccinations, conducting lab tests and x-rays and even performing minor surgeries. And as military employment, the job comes with extensive insurance and benefits.

Depending on their level of experience and certification, EMS providers choosing to become an HS may receive an accelerated training program. The full program includes 23 weeks of training at the Coast Guard’s “A School” in Petaluma, California. It starts with military leadership training, then a seven-week EMT course. Sixteen weeks of intensive education in military medicine follow, which include didactic instruction, lab work, clinical rotations and practical skills applications.

The curriculum covers familiar areas like anatomy, physiology and patient examination, but also areas that may be new to EMS providers, such as clinical lab procedures, wound repair, pharmacology and preventive medicine. HSs also perform the following:

  1. Prevention of disease and illness through training/education programs for Coast Guard units
  2. Sanitation/habitability inspections of dining facilities and living spaces aboard Coast Guard units
  3. Evaluate and treat acute illnesses
  4. Prescribe medications from the HS formulary
  5. Manage clinical administrative workloads and quality assurance programs for accredited health care certification.

The program includes a leadership component, along with an emphasis on medical management information systems.

New HSs serve 35 months of active duty after graduation. They’re typically stationed first in a large clinic environment where they can see lots of patients and polish their skills; later they may be assigned to small sick-bay clinics or aboard cutters. They can also be assigned temporary duty for missions like disaster response, search and rescue and medical evaluation.

Many of the attributes that come with being a successful, experienced EMT or paramedic translate neatly into an HS career. Here are six traits of EMS providers that make them a good fit.

1. A desire to help: No one gets into EMS without empathy, compassion and an interest in reducing suffering. EMS provides that, but it also comes with frustrations: superutilizers, combative and uncooperative patients and people with larger problems than EMS can solve. Health services technicians represent the front line of an integrated Coast Guard care system that ensures the medical and dental health of select motivated and often young patients who need to stay fighting trim, as well as their families. It’s a healthy-skewing population that’s receptive to care and can be followed over time.

2. A sharp eye: Their concern for issues like scene safety and situational awareness makes EMS providers keen observers of detail. They also must assess, diagnose and stabilize emergency patients who may have unknown issues or be less than forthcoming about their histories. Doing the job well requires discernment. HSs need similar abilities to detect problems during routine operations and amid other activities. They also must be comfortable executing precise and demanding interventions.

3. Interest in learning and growing skills: Many in EMS lament its lack of a career path – often there’s no logical upward destination within systems for paramedics beyond management. Becoming an HS comes with an array of expanded skills that only the most progressive EMS systems bring to responses. With this additional education and experience, providers are better equipped to move on to PA, nursing and other roles after their Coast Guard service.

4. Broad-based knowledge: From trauma to acute illness and chronic disease, EMTs and paramedics must know a lot about a lot. Due to the broad spectrum of duties required of HSs, they must also have extensive knowledge in many areas. The military environment can require quick and decisive action, meaning providers need an extensive educational base.

5. Good communication skills: On a given scene, EMS providers may have to work with firefighters, police, families, bystanders and potentially business, utility and coroner’s personnel. With all these parties and their diverging interests, EMTs and paramedics must be comfortable and communicative – soft skills are vital. Interpersonal skills also matter in the military world, where HS patients may range from superior officers to small children. An EMS background helps instill those needed people skills.

6. A roll-with-it attitude: EMS work includes moments of the mundane and moments of mayhem, mixed randomly and repeatedly. No two days are alike, and there’s no telling what’s next. The same goes in the military, where missions change and emergencies can disrupt routine operations. EMTs and paramedics are well suited to work in this unpredictable environment and adapt to what comes.

The USCG notes that medical or dental experience is helpful to the aspiring HS, and educational experience in areas like math, anatomy, biology, physiology, chemistry and hygiene is an advantage.

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John Erich is a career writer and editor with more than two decades of experience in emergency services media, currently serving as a project lead for branded content with Lexipol Media Group.