When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards—cardboard photos of major leaguers with up to 20 rows of year-by-year statistics on the back. That’s more than enough for most players. Baseball’s mental and physical toll, in addition to age-related handicaps, make it hard to hit, run, and throw at an elite level past the age of 40.
Some of those relatively underpaid athletes from the ’50s and ’60s prepared for life away from their sport by gaining offseason experience in unrelated fields—sales or public relations, for example. Other players waited until they retired to pursue different livelihoods. Many of them faced uncertain futures and had to take whatever work they could get.
Does any of that sound familiar? It should if you or someone you know had to leave EMS unexpectedly.
I barely finished 20 years as a paramedic before injuries forced me out. I was luckier than some; I found other ways to earn a living. Still, 20 years seemed like an awfully short career.
Many of my childhood friends and almost all our parents had dedicated their adult lives to just one profession. I was the exception, switching industries several times between ages 18 and 60. Although that breadth of experience helped me build an eye-catching resumé, it wasn’t a lifestyle I’d recommend.
What I do suggest is a compromise: Instead of changing occupations every few years as I did, or choosing one job for life, plan on two half-careers—one in EMS and the other someplace else.
Begin by assessing your future as rationally and dispassionately as you can. Consider the following:
There’s regular old and EMS old. The latter often presents a decade or two sooner with musculoskeletal deficits, baggage, and burnout most wage earners will never know. Even if you hid those emerging issues for half a career, how much quality of life would you be willing to sacrifice in the second half?
Endurance and street smarts, sources of pride in the essential services, are less appreciated in the 9-to-5 corporate world. Better to anticipate the need for different skills while you still have time to learn them.
Enhancing your career can be fulfilling and even exhilarating, but you’ll have to work at it. Don’t expect to acquire the requisite knowledge in a matter of months. After I got hurt it took me several years of experimenting with offbeat enterprises to establish new sources of income.
Don’t wait for your body or mind to tell you EMS is over before you start searching for alternatives. Get ready for the second half of your career while you’re still on the first half. Best case, you stay healthy and happy in EMS while developing a contingency plan.
Wish I’d thought of that half a career earlier.
Mike Rubin is a paramedic in Nashville and a member of EMS World’s editorial advisory board. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.