A Day in the Life of an EMS Professional
What It’s Like To Be An EMS Professional
Thirty years ago, Ken White — when he was first getting started as an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) professional — returned home after treating a severe trauma call. It was a call where he really made an impact in the outcome of the patient’s life or death situation. It was an indelible moment for him early in his career, and as he strutted back into his house thinking about his accomplishment, his spouse told him to take out the garbage. Flummoxed at first, as to how someone can request such an act after making a major difference earlier in the day, he had a sudden realization: he shouldn’t think of himself as a superhero for what he does. It’s the job. He realized she simply just wanted the trash taken out.
The life of an EMS professional is comprised of chaotic, unpredictable days. Besides the vehicle and equipment checks, an EMS professional’s shift dispels the notion of having a routine day. In the field of emergency medical care, there is a proclivity for variables.
There are still remnants within public perception that an EMS professional is an ambulance driver. The profession of EMS really took shape in the 1970s. Rather than just transporting patients, treatment was also put in focus for when the ambulance arrives to the scene of an emergency. Often, an EMS professional is capable of stabilizing or relieving pain for a patient before proceeding to the hospital for further care. Ken even says the transportation aspect of the job is secondary.
EMS professionals may respond to between six and twelve call a shift. These calls each day bring a mix and emergency and non-emergency responses. Some, but not all will require use of lights and sirens. For each call, an EMS professional must be prepared to enter an unbridled environment. To take control of the disarray, Ken says an EMS professional must have a placid and systemic approach when entering a scene – no matter how simple or serious the call is.
This makes scene and situational awareness critical, and it’s something Mobile Medical Response teaches to its staff. Ken says the class focuses on teaching them to look at all aspects of a call. This includes dissecting the dispatch information going in, careful attention to crew and person safety should violence erupt on a scene. It showcases what the EMS professional can control in such a frantic scene.
On the scene, an EMS professional may face a bevy of challenges. Some challenges derive from that perception that they are there solely to take the patient to the hospital. Much of that anxiousness is also derived from how waiting for an ambulance feels like days rather than minutes. Ken says there are instances an EMS professional has to explain what exactly they are doing as they stabilize and relieve pain for the patient. Upon explanation, jitters dissipate and the patient and/or family members are good with letting the EMS professional proceed.
When the ambulance arrives at a hospital, care is turned over to a emergency department staff. An EMS professional doesn’t leave the patient until that happens. When it does, the ambulance is then cleaned, restocked, and reports are filled out. Then, the cycle repeats until the shift is over.
Rob Warnemuende, paramedic supervisor for Mobile Medical Response, says the change in work atmosphere to home can be a challenge. The “bad” days can pile up quick, and switching gears back into home life doesn’t always go so fluidly. There can be instances like Ken’s take-out-the-garbage moment, or returning home seeking hugs from anybody and everybody after witnessing a grieving parent earlier in the day.
The types of calls an EMS professional receive fluctuate day by day. Both Ken and Rob acknowledge many calls, both good and bad, linger in their minds. It’s why Rob playfully describes EMS professionals as a giant dysfunctional family. They laugh together, they cry together, and talk together. They make sure they are there for one another, and help each other out. It makes the good days outnumber the bad days.
An EMS professional wakes up without knowing if what’s ahead will be a good or bad day. Yet, Rob says he wakes to excitement, as he knows it’s his job to take care of people. They aren’t superheroes, but aren’t ambulance drivers, either. They’re an EMS professional. When you hear the sirens, it’s not a proclamation of a hero; it’s a person on the way to perform the duties of their job.