I came to the world of EMS one year ago as an ambulance aider for my town's local volunteer ambulance, and from that time I was hooked. I knew it's where I wanted to be.
Fast forward to the following spring, when I took my EMT course. I became certified in August. I've had my card for a little under three months now. So in the EMS world, I am much like a newborn babe. I have the right equipment and tools, but I'm just learning how to use what I have and when. And much like a newborn, I need the guidance of the more experienced to help me along.
I am fortunate to be training with knowledgeable and motivating senior EMTs and paramedics. That being said, I am so fresh and so new that my nerves get the better of me on calls.
Every EMT and medic I've spoken with reassures me that nerves are normal as a newbie. It means you care. If you go into it with arrogance or thinking that you know it all, there is room for bigger mistakes. You must be open to criticism and constantly learning and asking questions. What you learn in the classroom definitely does not mirror real-life calls. You can talk about the ABCs until you're blue in the face, and you can memorize “BSI, scene safety” until the words don't make sense in your head anymore, but as I’m now experiencing, this doesn't help you much out there. They’re useful tools, but adjusting and using those tools on real patients who present in very different environments and with different medical and traumatic emergencies can be challenging.
Yes, I'm that rookie who jumps at the tones dropping, whose heart races a little faster en route to a call. I’m that new EMT who asks dispatch to repeat the address of a scene a few times because I’m just too nervous to remember it. I'm the one who gets so excited to put a patient on oxygen, I grab the pediatric nonrebreather instead of the adult one. I’m a softie with an open ear to the frequent flyers, over-reactors and borderline manipulators. And with time, I know this job will make me tougher and a bit less friendly with certain individuals.
I've left the keys in the ignition of the ambulance after parking it in the bay, my partner waltzing into the emergency room waving around the set, asking if I forgot something. I fumble a lot. I forget things. I may ask the same questions twice or forget to ask for a birth date or any known allergies.
But the point is, I’m learning from my mistakes. Each week I train, I remember what I did wrong the week before or forgot, and fix it. I know I must keep doing this until I get it right. Until I gain more experience. Each time, I am more confident than the last.
I've learned from my friends and colleagues that you get up and dust yourself off after you fall. You keep going. EMS will teach you that fast. You will make mistakes, and you will fall. New or veteran. Because everyone does. We're all human.
To all you newbies out there in my position, my best advice is to be confident in your skills and hone them. And most importantly, don’t forget to breathe. Breathe and remember, it’s not your emergency. It’s theirs. Quality patient care is our priority, after all, given by skilled and confident EMTs.
Thank you to my crew, chiefs and trainers at New Windsor Ambulance Company for always being patient with me, encouraging me, teaching me, and guiding me as I embark upon this new journey to a career in medicine.
Caterina DeGaetano-Morris is a newly certified New York State EMT-B. She volunteers with New Windsor Ambulance in Orange County, N.Y. She is a mother of one, wife, and writer, and aspires to become a physician assistant.