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The Secret to Being a Good EMT? Be Calm, Competent and Kind


Here you are, week one of what you hope will be a rewarding career. The tests are over—or have they just begun?

EMS can be a satisfying career. Advancement is more possible now than at any time in the history of EMS. Community paramedicine programs have the potential to lengthen careers and build stronger relationships between EMS and the rest of the healthcare world. With expanded EMS roles comes expansion of opportunity. Nobody knows for certain where EMS’s future lies, but I believe that the future is looking bright.

But what about right now, you may ask.

My advice? Right now is exactly where you are supposed to be. You will be inundated with patients whose emergency is far from what you visualized when the idea of becoming a paramedic or EMT materialized. You have two options:

  1. Fight;
  2. Survive.

Fighting every borderline patient is a waste of energy. Finding the path to a fulfilling career will not be achieved with frustration, conflict and animosity. Being diplomatic will reduce stress for you and the patient, improve relationships between you and the hospital staff and give to you what I have found to be one of the most important pieces of the EMS survival puzzle:

Control equals survival.

The public is looking for somebody to lead when they call for assistance. The patient can’t be in control; they depend on competent, confident people to arrive. The family expects you will be able to take care of their loved one. Control has nothing to do with power. It has nothing to do with bullying. It has everything to do with calmness, competency and kindness.

Here are a few ideas that may help you when presented with the daily grind:

Called for an infant with a fever at 3 in the morning?

Say “Hello, little baby,” and take her temperature the way you would your own kids’, or your mother took yours: by actually touching the child, and putting your hand on her forehead and feeling if she’s warm or not. Most parents love you for it.

Neck and back pain from a fender bender?

Immobilization drill!

An elderly lady vomiting?

Bring a towel. When you arrive, after asking family members her name, wet the towel in the sink and wipe her face before putting her in the chair. It works miracles, trust me.

Intoxicated, uncooperative college student?

Immobilization drill with enhanced police relations!

Intoxicated homeless man?

Tell him, again, that all is not lost, that redemption is as close as the decision to not drink today. Just one day, and life will improve immediately and continue to get better. It may seem like a waste of time, but who knows?

Cancer patient who wants to go to the farthest hospital at shift change?

Make a rule, and plant it in your brain: Cancer patients get whatever they want.

Twentieth call in 20 hours?

Suck it up, buttercup. If this were easy, everybody would do it!

Excelling in all things will make you a better provider, partner and person. EMS needs excellence in all aspects of our operations, and you, the newbie, are just as important in realizing our potential as is a dinosaur like me, the chief of EMS or the CEO of the company. Do your best, and everybody wins.

Michael Morse, EMT-C, is captain of Rescue 5 in Providence, RI, and has served on the city's busiest engine, ladder and rescue squads as a firefighter, rescue technician and lieutenant during his 21-year career. He is the author of the books Rescuing Providence and Responding.

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