Rod Brouhard is a paramedic, journalist, educator, advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients, and About.com's Guide to First Aid.
911 or Medical Taxi
If job security is important, emergency medical service is the perfect career. We could cure every disease in the world, but until we find a way to eliminate injuries, paramedics and emergency medical technicians will always have jobs. There's a wise old saying that sums up why I'll always be employed:
"You can't fix stupid."
Four words that epitomize the basic tenet of emergency medical care. As long as teenagers have hormones and still-developing brains that can't quite filter out impulses, we will continue to respond to broken bones at skate parks and ski resorts.
As long as cars are still driven by humans under the influence of alcohol, stress, text messaging, the opposite sex or a combination of all four, paramedics and EMTs will respond to cataclysmically rearranged anatomy. We'll be there to sort through the dead and the almost-dead, working quickly and efficiently to keep those in the latter category from entering the former.
Car accidents and violence are not the only bread and butter of emergency medical services. Heart attacks, bee stings and strokes all have their places in the inventory of illnesses and injuries that fuel the emergency medical business.
Emergencies are surely a huge part of emergency medical services, but you may be surprised to find that in the back of most ambulances you see cruising down the street, not a single life hangs in the balance. The need for ambulances goes way beyond 911.
When a patient in one hospital must be relocated to another to see a specialist or because the insurance requires it, an ambulance must be called. When the bed-ridden resident of a nursing home needs to see her doctor or get dialysis, an ambulance takes her. When your family member is hurt visiting Yosemite and must return home under medical care, an ambulance is going to bring him.
Saving Lives and Getting Paid
I found my way into emergency medical services quite by accident. I was always a fan of Emergency! but I had plans to build computer equipment as a career. Daddy was a volunteer fire chief, so I joined the department because it looked like fun. The chief asked for volunteers to be trained as emergency medical technicians. By the time I finished the training, I had my first job as an EMT.
I love being a paramedic on an ambulance. This career has taken me down several different paths - teacher, writer, manager - but the common thread has always been climbing into the back of an ambulance to move a patient from point A to point B, sometimes when a life is on the line.
I am an adrenaline junky, as are most of my colleagues. I thrive on the exigency of a call for help and pride myself on presenting a calm demeanor in the face of it. While performing well in such high-stress environments is the very reason we train, maintaining an air of compassion during the day-to-day nonemergency runs is the mark of a true professional.
Public or Private, There're Jobs Aplenty
The job market for emergency medical services is expected to grow by nearly 20% in the next 10 years. There has been a national campaign running for almost three decades to get people to call 911 for their emergencies. Cost containment in the medical field has lead to more specialty centers, which means patients seen at ancillary hospitals will need medical transportation to get there.
I've never worked for a municipality. For my entire career as a paramedic and EMT - always handling 911 calls as a frontline emergency responder - I've been in the private sector. In many cities across the country, private ambulance providers respond right alongside tax-supported agencies in the fire service or law enforcement.
Both emergency medical technicians and paramedic are licensed (or certified). The training requirements vary by state. Generally speaking, EMT training takes around 120 hours. Paramedic training builds on the EMT certification and takes anywhere from six months to two years to complete, depending on the state and the program.
As an industry, emergency medical service is less than 100 years old. Paramedics came on to the scene around 1970, which means training programs are still figuring out what works and what doesn't. Some programs utilize dedicated preceptors in the field to mentor paramedic interns. Other programs simply have paramedic interns spend time with any available licensed paramedic.
Some emergency medical technicians go on to be paramedics. Most paramedic programs were designed for experienced emergency medical technicians to further their careers. Today, however, it's much more common for someone with no training and no medical or emergency experience to go through the training all at once, becoming a paramedic without any clue what to expect in the field.
If there's any piece of advice I can give for true success, it is to get two or three years experience as an EMT before tackling paramedic school. Ideally, EMT experience should be on an ambulance that responds to 911 calls with a paramedic partner. See the job performed as it is intended before trying to do it yourself.