EMS Week 2019: Culture change ‘beyond the call’

Advocate for EMS provider mental and physical health not just during EMS Week, but all year long


This article originally appeared in the May 23, 2019, issue of the Paramedic Chief Leadership Briefing, Extending #EMSWeek | Truly 'beyond the call' | Peer support programs. Read the full briefing and add the Paramedic Chief eNewsletter to your subscriptions

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EMS Week is May 19-25, 2019. Way back in 1974, President Gerald Ford wrote the proclamation for the first EMS week, and since then, we’ve spent the third week of May every year celebrating what we do, and advocating for our profession to policy makers and the general public.

We’ll build up to it with EMS on the Hill day, where EMS professionals descend on the Capitol Building in dress uniforms to advocate to lawmakers who are content to listen to humor us for a day or two and then treat us as an afterthought the rest of the year.

Culture change in EMS isn’t something we’re going to accomplish in a week in May. It’s a constant effort, and we can start by focusing more every day on what we do beyond the call. (Photo/Facebook)
Culture change in EMS isn’t something we’re going to accomplish in a week in May. It’s a constant effort, and we can start by focusing more every day on what we do beyond the call. (Photo/Facebook)

I’ve said before that I think we’re doing it backwards; we should furiously advocate and educate for EMS 51 weeks a year, and then take the third week in May off (preferably some place with sun, sand and fruity alcoholic drinks with umbrellas in them).

Yes, I’m cynical, but not about celebrating the work and sacrifices made by my brothers and sisters in EMS. I do that every day anyway, even when the issues I raise pose some uncomfortable truths for us as EMS professionals. I’m just dubious that a week of showing the flag in May is anything more than window dressing, a way for the powers-that-be to placate us for the rest of the year.

What Beyond the Call looks like for EMS providers

This year’s EMS Week theme is Beyond the Call.

Finally, an EMS Week slogan that doesn’t make my roll my eyes so far I can see my own occipital lobe!

Beyond the Call is an excellent opportunity for us to educate and inform the public and lawmakers about what happens in EMS, well ... beyond the call. Let this be our rallying cry to speak to the issues that are important to us.

Tell policymakers about what happens beyond the call you ran for a child struck by a car, when you went home after your shift and couldn’t shake the feeling that the child looked so much like your kid that you could barely stay clinically detached. And how, for the last week, you’ve woken up in the middle of the night with fear gripping your heart in an icy fist, and had to go check on him while he slept, just to reassure yourself that he’s OK.

Tell the taxpayers in your district that beyond the call at your primary EMS job, you have to run more calls at your secondary EMS job, just so you can afford to feed your family, and even with both jobs, you likely don’t make as much money as the guy that rides the garbage truck in their neighborhood. And to remember that when it comes time to renew or increase a tax millage.

Remind them when they gripe about the cost of an ambulance bill, that the biggest expense in EMS isn’t the cost of service, it’s the cost of readiness, and readiness bears financial burdens well beyond the call.

Remind your supervisors that the physical toll on you extends well beyond the call. The station duties, radio traffic, street corner posting and the necessity to take a second job because the first doesn't pay a living wage all disrupt your sleep cycle and worsen your health. Point out to them that a fatigue mitigation policy and sleep rooms demonstrate concern for an agency's most valuable resource far better than a grilled hamburger on a designated day in May. 

Advocate to your employers that better mental health benefits are a tangible way to help providers with all the psychic turmoil that lingers beyond the call. Help them understand that you’d be a much happier and productive employee if you didn’t go home after every shift so physically and emotionally drained that you can’t even devote time to your family – the same family that recharges your career satisfaction batteries and keeps you motivated.

Remind your coworkers that you have their backs beyond the call. You’re going to be there for them, even after the PCR is transmitted and the rig is cleaned and restocked. And if they can’t mentally get beyond the call, you’re not going to judge. You’re going to help, whatever that takes.

Make the commitment to your profession that you’re going to focus more on advocacy and education. I know when you’re struggling to master your craft and pay the bills and advocate for your patients that it’s hard to see beyond the call, but EMS is bigger than you or your agency. Act as a steward of your profession.

Hug your spouse, play with your kids, and show them every day that the most precious things to you are beyond the call. Getting away from EMS and living your life is important, too.

Mentor that millennial or Generation Z medic that needs to learn that responsibility, work ethic and initiative extend beyond the call. And don’t be blind to the fact that they have lessons to teach you as well. Quality of living, leisure time and a social life has value far beyond the call, Mr. Workaholic Generation X Medic.

In short, culture change in EMS isn’t something we’re going to accomplish in a week in May. It’s a constant effort, and we can start by focusing more every day on what we do beyond the call.

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