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The Problem with EMS

The Problem with EMS

One of the things that I really enjoy about my job as an EMS educator is that I have the opportunity to travel around the country and meet with other instructors and their students.  Once, while on such a trip, I was interviewing a class of Paramedic students who were getting ready to move from their classroom and hospital clinicals into the real world of field EMS.  As I was their assessing their program, I asked the question, “So what would you do to improve your program?”

This garnered the usual responses of more time with hands on, too much information etc.  However one response actually through me for a loop.  A student, who appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s suddenly blew up and began to vigorously shout, “There is too much d___ BS in this class!  Just teach me what I need to know to pass the d____ national registry test and I’ll learn to be a paramedic in my Department when I get to the streets!”

Well….my first thought was that if this student was going to “learn” about EMS on the streets I was CERTAINLY glad that I did not live in that town.  Additionally I was really glad that I had installed a new filter between my brain and my mouth so that my thoughts at that time did not verbally leak out!  It was unfortunate that this young man had the very wrong AND very DANGEROUS view of the process of learning about taking care of patients.  There is no doubt that in our learning about the care and treatment of the human body, mistakes will be made.  However, we want to minimize the occurrence of those mistakes and when they do occur, it requires much less paperwork when they happen while working on a manikin and not a real person!

There is much that is right with the current state of EMS.  However, one of the things that I find particularly frustrating is the fact that we want to be recognized as professionals without having to do the work FIRST.  Please allow me to be blunt…that is just flat out (Southernese here!) LAZY.  We shake our fists and stomp our feet crying, “As a paramedic I can do just as much as a nurse…then why am I not recognized as such and paid on a level par to them.”  However, when the subject of professional education comes up we see memes such as the latest popular one that shows a bloodied, trashed ambulance patient compartment.  The caption reads, “Back here your certifications don’t mean a thing”.

It is important to realize that if we want the money and recognition that we “say” we deserve, then we have to EARN it. There is a long standing system in place that determines who is a medical professional and who is not.  It was there LONG before EMS came on the scene.  We become pretty laughable when we say, “Hey!  I just finished 1000 hours of instruction that no one says is valid or reliable.  Just take my word for it that I am a professional!”  In essence, that equates to you going down to a car lot and picking out a used car and buying it because: a.  it is a car, b. it has four doors and four wheels and c. the salesman says that there is nothing wrong with it. 

I’m really excited yet apprehensive about the upcoming generation of EMS responders.  I see in them the same hunger that drove many of us in the 1970s during the inception of modern EMS.  My anxiety though stems from the fact that those of us who fought against the loud cry of “just drive them to the hospital” when we began EMS have now become those same road blocks to today’s group of EMS responders.  There are too many other opportunities for these young medical professionals.  Even now, jobs that were not available three to five years ago are now scooping up the best and brightest.  Instead of transitioning to nursing, many of them are using their paramedic skills as stepping stones to medical school.  If baby boomers (of whom I am a charter member) continue to stand in the way of them, who will respond to take care of us as we age and become ill.  Will we receive adequate care or will we be resigned to those who have to do EMS because they have no other options? 

For those of my generation, I make this challenge. There is most definitely still a place for you in EMS.  You have been there since the beginning.  You know where the traps lie.  You have the experience and the wisdom to pass on.  It has been my experience that today’s generation are eager to learn from you.  HOWEVER, understand that we are no longer in 1975 and Johnny and Roy have long since retired.  As the old maxim goes, “lead, follow or get out of the way”!

To those of you who are just entering EMS.  Continue to make us feel uncomfortable.  Continue to ask, “Why do we do things this way?”  Many times we will have a logical answer.  For others we won’t.  As a last resort…hold on!  Remember…the dinosaurs became extinct because they couldn’t or wouldn’t change. 

About the author:

Bill Young began his EMS career in 1975 with a small fire department near Williamsburg, KY. They began running first responder calls long before the phrase ever existed. In addition to Kentucky, his career has taken him to Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, and Kansas. He has served as a street medic, training officer, supervisor, state regulator, and educator. He is enrolled in the University of the Cumberlands where he is seeking a doctorate degree in education.  Currently, he is an Assistant Professor and the Director at Eastern Kentucky University in the Fire and Paramedicine Science Department

Published on May 23, 2016

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