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A Day in the Life of a Paramedic

Are you familiar with the people running the stretchers through the door and shouting numbers at the doctors on the television show “ER”? Those are paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Paramedics are the highest level of pre-hospital providers; EMTs are the basic level personnel. Paramedics and EMTs are often the first medical people at the scene of an accident or sudden illness; they give immediate care to heart attack victims, car crash victims, gunshot victims, and poisoning victims. They even assist in childbirth. The sick or injured are then transported to healthcare facilities in specially equipped emergency vehicles. On arrival at a medical center, the paramedics transfer the patient to nursing personnel and report their observations and treatment procedure to the attending physician. The guidelines or procedures followed by EMTs are directly related to their level of training. The EMT-Paramedic is at the upper rung of a three-level hierarchy. Paramedics administer sophisticated prehospital care. They are trained in the use of complex medical equipment, such as EKGs, and are capable of administering drugs both orally and intravenously. EMT-Intermediates have more advanced training than EMT-Basics who bandage wounds, stabilize blood pressure, assist heart attack victims, and treat accident victims for shock. All three levels of EMTs can be talked through care procedures in the event they are confronted with a difficult or complicated situation. Thus EMTs may maintain radio contact with a dispatcher and keep him apprised of the situation. Should the need arise, senior medical personnel (physicians) will then take charge. For EMTs and paramedics, helping people can be an athletic experience; you have to be where people need you. Like fire fighters or other emergency response personnel, paramedics and EMTs are involved in life and death situations. Their work can be richly rewarding, as when a child is born despite difficulties, or terribly sad, when, even after administering proper care, a patient dies. Conditions are tremendously stressful, hours long and irregular, and salaries low. Paramedics must be physically and emotionally strong enough to do backbreaking and sometimes dangerous work, and ready to hustle on a moment’s notice, whether they feel like it or not, as someone’s life may be on the line. The paramedic never knows what conditions they might meet on any given day, so emotional stability is at a premium. “It’s a lot of stress and anxiety,” says one EMT who has been on the job for three years. “But some days you go home feeling like you really made a difference, and that’s a real good feeling.”

Paying Your Dues

Training to become an EMT is offered by police, fire, and health departments and in some hospitals. Many colleges and universities offer nondegree courses. Basic training to become a first level EMT requires 100 to 120 hours of classroom sessions plus ten hours of internship in a hospital emergency room and twenty to fifty hours on field rescue or ambulance companies. An additional thirty-five to fifty-five hours of instruction in patient assessment, intravenous fluids, antishock garments, and esophageal airways are required in intermediate training. Paramedics usually undergo between 750 and 2,000 hours of training. But the real training comes with experience. Although registration is not generally required, it does enhance the possibility of advancement and employment opportunities. A certified EMT must renew his registration every two years, which requires that he remain active in the field and meet a continuing education requirement. However, a paramedic seeking advancement must leave fieldwork if she is to move up to operations manager, administrative officer, or executive director of emergency services.

Present and Future

Doctors saving soldiers on battlefields are the forerunners of today’s paramedics. Unfortunately, there will always be a need for people who can administer emergency treatment and rush the sick and injured to doctors’ care. Employment opportunities in the emergency services industry will continue to expand with an aging population which will increasingly have a need for such services.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

If the paramedic is already board certified, the two-year mark signals the time for recertification. Continuing education classes are an integral part of the paramedic’s first two years on the job. On-the-job training has given him the confidence and ability to deal with a variety of situations. The paramedic is relatively new to the field and still approaches his job with energy and idealism.

FIVE YEARS OUT

The registered paramedic is still updating his skills through classes and workshops. After five years, he or she is beginning to feel the stresses of the job. Long and irregular hours, being on-call sometimes twenty-four hours a day are taking its toll on the professional. For those who are still stress-free at the five-year level, advancement figures prominently in their thoughts. Operations manager and administrative director are positions that the five-year veteran would consider moving up to. This is also the ideal time to consider pursuing further studies in order to become an R.N., physician’s assistant, physician, or other health care professional.

TEN YEARS OUT

After ten years, paramedics have usually left the field for middle- or top-level administrative positions. But even then, continuing education classes and refresher courses are still important.