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Where to From Here? The Cure for the Common Career

When you’re feeling stuck in your career, it usually means you’re ready for a change. But how do you begin that journey? Whether you’re nearing retirement looking for a part-time gig or a rookie EMT in search of your next big move, there is something out there for you—but the onus is on you to make it happen. Five industry leaders gathered for a panel discussion at EMS World Expo to share their expertise in career advancement.

“You don’t need to know where you’re going, but you can’t stand still,” said Blair Bigham, MD, ACPf, MSc, DTMH, an emergency physician and journalist. Acknowledging it can be overwhelming deciding what your next path will be, Bigham stresses avoiding getting caught in a limbo of indecisiveness and inaction.  

Nearly 40% of EMS professionals report job dissatisfaction, and while low wages and burnout are among the main causal factors, having a bad supervisor is the number one reason why providers leave their jobs. Yet many will hold out much longer than necessary for the sake of being loyal to their crews.

“We’re characterized as a group with a really deep sense of loyalty,” said Jeff Lucia, NREMT-P (ret.), a communications and marketing consultant, but don’t think you’re being disloyal to your colleagues for leaving a poorly managed organization. If an opportunity arises for you to contribute to bigger things in EMS, then you’ll be serving them just as well there than where you are now, he said.

Carl Cowan, MS, NRP, CCP-C, assistant director of emergency management at Harvard Medical School, related the No. 1 EMS tenant of scene safety to putting yourself first professionally. “You must always be loyal to yourself. If you feel like you’re loyal to an organization, I promise you there is someone waiting outside the door to take your place. Advocate for yourself,” he said.

“Be professionally selfish,” echoed Ray Barishansky, MPH, MS, CPM, deputy secretary of health at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Furthering your education and having self-awareness are two key steppingstones to advancing your career. “You are more important than the organization. That organization will probably look to replace you within hours, if not minutes, of you being gone, so think about you.”

If you still find yourself passing up on opportunities because they are inconvenient, challenge your reasoning, says Bigham. He said many of his achievements were results of saying yes to unexpected opportunities (or being heavily persuaded by others to take advantage of them). He suggests asking yourself, “Is this actually a barrier or just an excuse? Is this a convenient reason for me to stay where I’m comfortable or is this something I would do if the barrier weren’t there?”

Determine what exactly you need and want in a job and find something that strikes a balance between the two. When you finally do take that step forward, make sure you’re in the right headspace to do so. If you’re burnt-out in patient care, it’s time to step back and get healthy again before moving forward. “When we’re stressed, we tend to have blind spots and rush to conclusions that aren’t perfectly valid,” said Bigham.

“Don’t wait till you’re at your breaking point to make the decision to make a move,” said Cowan. “It will be a rash one and it might not be the one you want to make.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. Reach out to your board of directors, said Barishansky: This is the group of mentors you have in your life who support you in various ways. These are the people who have been where you are and can guide you in the right direction. For example, if you’re not getting called for interviews, it may only be because your resume needs some boosting, not because you’re not qualified. Send a copy to your board of directors to make sure you’re using the right language for that field.

If you’re totally unsure of what to do, consider any unique skillsets you have that could be turned into an educational business model.

“There’s probably something specific that you’re really good at that you can teach,” said Lisa DeBoer, president of Pedi-Ed-Trics Emergency Medical Solutions, LLC. “People are scared of starting a business but when the leap happens, it happens slowly. If it’s just fear holding you back, look at what is causing that. Who is intimidating you? It’s probably yourself. Fail forward. If that doesn’t work, try something else. As long as you don’t quit. If you have something that’s your dream, go for it, make small steps and make sure it’s something real.”

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