Lights, sirens, action! The life of an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) can be exciting, exhausting, and fulfilling. No two days are the same, no two calls are the same. When the ambulance pulls up to the scene of an emergency, the EMTs inside have no idea what they will find. Sometimes they can save lives, sometimes they can’t. How do you decide if a career in emergency services is right for you? There are many quizzes online to see if you have the right personality for the job, such as this one. But what, in a nutshell, can you expect from a job in the driver’s seat of an emergency vehicle?
- Not your typical 9-5. Expect varying working hours and days on and off, depending on the number of EMT/EMS/Paramedics on staff, where you work, and your level of experience. Rotating shifts are not uncommon, so if you require 8 hours of sleep each night from 10 to 6, you may want to consider a different line of work.
- No millionaires. Salaries again depend on the level of training and experience you have, along with where you live, but the median pay for EMT/Paramedic in the US as of October of 2016 was $12/hour. Calculating in variables like overtime, bonuses, profit sharing, etc., the average Paramedic can expect to earn $20,929 – $48,498 a year.
- Run toward danger. “The crux of a lot of the training you receive at any of the levels is critical thinking. It takes a lot of specialized training for an EMT, Paramedic, etc., to get their brain to function in a way that is difficult to explain to those who haven’t worked in the industry,” says Mike Carlin, a career emergency responder. “You have to think almost abnormally, almost against what others would do in the same type of situation. We’re the ones going into a scene that people are trying to run away from. At the same time, we’re trying to maintain our safety and constantly monitoring our surroundings. The training at any level revolves around teaching the emergency responder how to think in a critical and very quick fashion, and to execute decisions that are kind of cookie cutter—see this – do this, see this – do this—but to also maintain the overall safety of the responders and the people who are involved in each incident.”
- You can’t save them all. If you are a perfectionist, then EMS is probably not for you. You will make mistakes, you will lose patients, you will lose patience, and you have to be okay with all of those scenarios. Sometimes, despite having done everything right, it’s just that person’s time to go. It’s the curse of those drawn to this kind of career out of a desire to help those who are hurting. When you don’t win, knowing you did all you can has to be enough.
- Breakdowns. Emotions run high when you are surrounded by chaos in an emergency situation. Lack of sleep and back-to-back runs can result in mental stress. The exertion of moving victims, carrying equipment, running to scenes, and kneeling on every imaginable surface can lead to physical stress. How is your health? This is another consideration when contemplating EMS.
- The Highs. When you win, you win big. There is a rush which comes from saving someone’s life, helping someone in a bad situation, knowing what you do every day makes a difference in the lives of others. Staying humble in your service, and understanding it’s always a team effort on scene at emergencies goes far toward a more rewarding career.