A friendly reader, interested in joining the paramedic profession as a second career, recently asked me a series of questions.
“I want to find a job where I can directly help people in a health-medical/hands-on field.
I’ve been conducting very thorough research in the paramedic career (given my anxious and perfectionist self; not wanting to mess up my career choice again). What is your overall satisfaction with the job? Do you feel you are really helping people? How do you deal with tragic trauma, high-pressure situations, rigid protocols, etc..? Is there any routine in it?”
Ok Earthling- brace yourself!
As some of you know this is also my second career. I left formal teaching in 2012 after giving it a fair shake. Initially I was bitter about my “failed” career (and the debt it cost to get there) but the skills I learned in the process have benefited me in awesome and unexpected ways. I think part of what makes a good paramedic is lots of life experience– it is how we learn to relate to each other. Until we can handle our own nasty selves and tragic stories, it is hard to support someone else in an exceptional way. Every interaction we have offers us a lesson in communication and empathy. Talk to everyone! Messing up is great! Aim for exceptional! Everything happens for a reason! Yay!
Do I feel like I am helping people? Yes, definitely- some days it’s the only thing that keeps me going. Is it always television worth? No, no, nope. Helping our patients and their families can be as simple as providing safe passage. None of us like to be called “ambulance drivers” and yet it is half of what we do- and we better be damn good at it because the public entrusts us with their most precious non-refundable cargo! Sometimes helping is as simple as calming a patient before surgery. Sometimes it’s bringing their dog inside, alerting their next of kin, turning off the lights, and locking their apartment. Of course most of us thrive on using our more impressive skills- but it is not what we do all the time (unless you live in inner city Detroit or something). Patients allow paramedics to see them at their most vulnerable- it provides a very special opportunity to be their personal “hero” for a moment. I once read that if a paramedic makes their patient feel cared for- they probably won’t get sued. A little help can mean a lot.
How do I deal with tragic trauma and high pressure situations? Personally I rely on my support network- my peers, my family, my cat. I also find physical release through yoga, hiking, and volunteering at the SPCA. Animal therapy is awesome. I talk a lot to people I trust (“been-there-done-that” mentors). I hate to say this but a weird perk of being a female can be that people expect you to cry. That’s right, I cry sometimes. However, I worry that as a profession we aren’t “dealing with it” well. Between January 1, 2015 and January 26, four Canadian first-responders committed suicide. Since April 2014, there have been 34 similar cases. 1 Many of them were seasoned veterans. We can not take this lightly. On a related note, paramedic job longevity is not good either- the average career lasts less than four years. 2
As for routine on the job? What routine? Haha. Part of what makes first response unique is the chance for every day to be different. Every patient you assess will be different, every partner has their own flavor, call types are endless- your sleep and nutrition schedule vary. For me, the changing personal-care schedule is challenging. I carry emergency-purse-snacks at all times. There have been a lot of studies on shift work/on-call and it’s worth looking into some of the sacrifices. TIME magazine listed paramedics as the 4th most sleep-deprived job of all jobs. 3 According the JEMS, “Medical professionals are beginning to call fatigue the number one problem in our field.” 4 Check out their article here… http://www.jems.com/article/news/study-measures-effect-sleep-deprivation
As for job satisfaction? I am very proud to wear the uniform- I cherish the opportunity to help people. There are days when I get frustrated with our under-funded health care system, or the juvenile growing pains of our profession, or the public misuse of our resources, or other people’s attitudes. But my frustration stems from a desire for the ideal system where everyone gets the help they need in a timely and efficient manner… and I get to have pee-breaks…and lunch.
Job satisfaction can also depend on finding the “right service fit”. I have now worked/volunteered in three distinctly different service areas. When I began volunteering in Northern Alberta I was led to believe, by call experience alone, that treating stab wounds was a major part of any paramedic’s job. I have now been in Swift Current for two years and I haven’t seen a single one! I have seen a lot of people living past 100 though! Do you want to work in your hometown where you are potentially treating people you know? Do you like inner-city work where call volume and pressure is high? Or do you prefer a medium sized city with lots of inter-facility transfers? Paramedicine can be very region specific, even in terms of protocols.
My semi-unsolicited advice is to do ride-alongs with EMS. This will give you insight into the profession in your area. Another good idea is to volunteer at long-term care homes. Do you like hanging out with the elderly? Because as a paramedic- you will be! Can you handle the sights and smells of hospitals or care homes? That can be a deal breaker! Researching a job that truly is “hands-on” will only get you so far. Something that is really important to research is job availability- nothing worse than graduating only to find casual work. 😛
Well Earthing, this certainly turned into a novel and it’s time for nightshift! Hopefully I did not break any bubbles too abrasively. Being a paramedic can be very rewarding but there are a lot of trade-offs. I applaud you for exploring the (sometimes misunderstood) field of EMS.
“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” – Mother Theresa.
P.s.- Have you picked up 200lbs lately? 😉