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How EMS stepped up

The way EMS cared for our communities in 2020 eased the burden on our healthcare system – a huge step toward the maturity of our profession


Our profession gained a lot of public support and goodwill during the COVID-19 pandemic, and deservedly so.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Sunday started EMS Week 2021, and once again, it slipped up on me. I’ve been an unrepentant EMS Week cynic for years. I snipe that EMS On the Hill Day is for legislators to get photo ops with EMTs they’re content to ignore the rest of the year; that EMS week cookouts always seem to be made from the leftovers from Nurse’s Week, and that none of the goodies are still around by the time the night shift comes on. I constantly make fun of the adrenaline-junkie, heroic EMS Week themes, and I’ve even gone so far as to say that we should be advocating for EMS the other 51 weeks of the year, and suggest (only half-jokingly) that we all take a vacation for the third week in May, to let the public get a taste of what a week without EMS would be like. It all had an Ebenezer Scrooge-ish, “Bah, humbug!” kind of vibe.

And then this year, ACEP and NAEMT announce the 2021 EMS Week theme: Caring for Our Communities.

Now that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Our profession gained a lot of public support and goodwill during the COVID-19 pandemic, and deservedly so. We came to work, day in and day out, made do with severe PPE shortages, worked endless overtime shifts when our workforce was ravaged by the disease, adapted to ever-shifting guidance from the CDC. We collaborated and coordinated with hospitals like we never had before, we got our continuing education via Zoom, we cared for our patients with dignity and respect, we modified our treatments to lessen exposure risk, and when the treatment was necessary despite the risk, we provided it.

And afterwards, we disinfected our rigs and ourselves with a vengeance, prayed we didn’t get infected and ran the next call. We got the job done.

But there was something else that happened along the way that helped us grow beyond our, “You call, we haul, that’s all,” roots. During this pandemic, we learned to be more efficient. We learned which treatments were absolutely necessary and which weren’t, and where they could best be performed. We exercised our clinical judgement and gave people medical advice that would have been verboten just a few months before. We proved ourselves efficient gatekeepers of the medical system, operating with improvised procedures and protocols, proving ourselves far more operationally agile than many believed possible. We did treatment in place and alternate destination transport, and for the most part, did it effectively.

In short, we cared for our communities in the most efficient manner possible. We were able to help ease the burden on our healthcare system, without compromising the care we provided. That’s huge, and a big step toward the maturity of our profession. While the public was certainly grateful, I hope the rest of healthcare noticed as well.

In 2020, we graduated from ambulance drivers to professional clinicians.

Take a bow, EMS. Job well done. columnist Kelly Grayson, is a paramedic ER tech in Louisiana. He has spent the past 14 years as a field paramedic, critical care transport paramedic, field supervisor and educator. Kelly is the author of the book Life, Death and Everything In Between, and the popular blog A Day in the Life of An Ambulance Driver.