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Best of Breed: Top EMS Books of the Decade

Let’s talk about books, wonderful books. I prefer print, but touchscreens work just as well. At EMS World we highlight the best industry literature whether or not it glows in the dark.

Reading books and reviewing them is the most fun I have on lazy days when my grandkids don’t visit. They’ll inherit my first editions—some by multitalented clinicians who write as Dickens or Hemingway might have if they’d been paramedics. Those are the authors I want to tell you about. I can’t promise you’ll appreciate their work as much as I do, but I guarantee you’ll laugh, learn, or simply marvel at humanity’s endurance.

The following are my favorite titles from the past 10 years. Each carries ratings of 1–3 stars in two categories—education and entertainment—to compare content, not quality. All these books are exceptional. You wouldn’t go wrong by reading every one and ignoring the stars.

A Thousand Naked Strangers, by Kevin Hazzard

  • Education **
  • Entertainment ***

Take a journalist with a conscience, make him an EMT shortly after 9/11, send him to paramedic school, put him in one of the busiest 9-1-1 systems in the U.S., ask him how he likes it, and you have the premise for A Thousand Naked Strangers.

Despite the title, this book is much more than gratuitous tales of free-flowing body fluids. If you’re attracted to EMS from a distance, Hazzard’s gritty stories will help you decide if street medicine is worth pursuing. Warning: Maggots will be a factor.

Bad Call, by Mike Scardino

  • Education *
  • Entertainment ***

Want to know what EMS was like before it had a name? Mike Scardino has plenty to tell about primitive prehospital care in late-1960s New York City.

Scardino, a protégé of novelist James Patterson, takes a summer job on a hospital ambulance to help pay for college. If I could use only two words to describe his experiences, I’d pick funny and disgusting, neither of which should surprise NYC*EMS veterans. Bad Call is an unvarnished account of the good, the bad, and the stupid, each of which contributes to our job security.

Can You Hear Me?, by Jake Jones

  • Education **
  • Entertainment ***

Can You Hear Me? features parallel story lines: the author’s sense of inadequacy while he gains proficiency as a London paramedic, and the neglected patients he treats along the way. EMS newcomers of all nationalities will learn lots about inner-city treat-and-release tactics, but American readers may benefit most through exposure to another megasystem’s daily grind.

Jones’s self-deprecating manner, including frank doubts about “doing it right,” is reassuring to ambos of any tenure. His prose—pert and polished—reminds us that many of our colleagues have mad skills beyond clinical practice.

Hurt, by Catherine Musemeche

  • Education ***
  • Entertainment **

What could be more attractive to an EMS audience than a book about grisly trauma written by a trauma surgeon? Not much.

Musemeche uses macabre cases to illustrate the physical and psychological challenges facing victims of horrific injuries. Readers are treated to a brief history of debilitating wounds and often-inadequate therapeutics evolving through trial and error. Thanks to Musemeche’s engaging style, prehospital caregivers will feel more like the author’s partners than her students.

Lights & Sirens, by Kevin Grange            

  • Education ***  
  • Entertainment ***

My only problem with Lights & Sirens is that it wasn’t published before I’d started medic school. Boy, could I have used Grange’s gripping narrative of education and indignities at UCLA’s world-class paramedic program.

The book begins on Day One of Kevin’s curriculum and ends with his graduation after nine months of intensive training. In between Grange encounters the daily “stand-and-deliver” challenge so familiar to sleep-deprived paramedic students. At times his vivid memories of patients, partners, and preceptors hit me like a catecholamine bolus.

Paramédico, by Benjamin Gilmour

  • Education ***
  • Entertainment **

I didn’t review Paramédico for EMS World, but leaving it off this list would be like ignoring Babe Ruth because I never saw him play.

Paramédico is a literate, engrossing comparison of EMS in 11 countries. The author rode in all of them—not for a shift or two but for weeks or months. It’s hard to imagine anyone in our business accomplishing more.

People Care, by Thom Dick

  • Education ***
  • Entertainment *

If you’ve been in EMS for more than a decade, chances are you recognize the name Thom Dick. Thom was a columnist for EMS World and other platforms during much of his half-century career. If our industry had a godfather, it would be Thom. That’s the first reason you should read People Care. The second is its title. I figure any writer who can summarize his theme in two words deserves a look.

People Care isn’t a textbook or a collection of war stories, although the author is perfectly capable of either. People Care is an EMS roadmap, helping disciples navigate common and uncommon human behavior. Imagine having such a work as your legacy.

Streetsense: Communication, Safety, and Control, by Kate Boyd Dernocoeur

  • Education ***
  • Entertainment *

If you’re lucky, you already own a copy of Streetsense because it was a textbook in one of your classes. That’s how scholarly it is, not in the sense of physiology or procedures, but as a comprehensive philosophy of patient care. Dernocoeur makes it work by applying her journalism background and 47 years of medical experience to a rich volume of advice any EMS provider can appreciate.

Mike Rubin is a paramedic in Nashville and a member of EMS World’s editorial advisory board. Contact him at mgr22@prodigy.net.

 

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