If you ever want to ruffle the feathers of an EMT or Paramedic all you have to do is call them an “ambulance driver.” We often hear the question, “What’s the big deal? You drive an ambulance, don’t you?” While “ambulance driver” may be an innocent statement and, in all actuality, we do “drive the ambulance,” there is so much more to what EMTs and paramedics do on a daily basis. (Just ask our friends the Police Car Drivers and Fire Truck Drivers, they’ll vouch for us. 😉)
Some of the more seasoned paramedics and EMTs (you know the ones…they like to tell stories about how they walked to work uphill both ways in 10 feet of snow) may remember the days when hearses owned by funeral homes did double duty as ambulances and working in EMS required little more knowledge than how to turn on the siren for an emergency. But modern EMS is a whole different ballgame. Today’s paramedics and EMTs have a significant amount of training and expertise, and ambulances are now mini emergency rooms on wheels, equipped with high-tech, life-saving equipment. Today’s EMS providers are licensed healthcare practitioners that must be able to respond to any medical situation and quickly provide advanced assessment and care at a moment’s notice.
EMTs and paramedics are required to complete training programs in order to earn a certification and a license to practice emergency medicine. After completing their initial certification, both EMTs and Paramedics are required to complete refresher courses each year to keep their license current and to stay up to date on best practices – many EMS practitioners who have been in the profession for a while have hundreds if not thousands of additional training hours under their belt.
Another question EMS professionals frequently hear is, “what is the difference between an EMT and a paramedic?” To get started in an EMS career, you must first become licensed as an EMT-Basic (most often simply called an EMT or Emergency Medical Technician). The EMT license is the entry-level point for most careers in EMS, but by no means does that mean the job or training is easy. To become an EMT, most individuals will spend four months in a classroom setting learning important life-saving skills such as how to stop major bleeding (without getting any on your uniform!), how to administer medications like epinephrine (to combat allergic reactions) and many other medical skills that allow EMTs to provide aid to patients in their time of need. During their training, all new EMTs also complete clinical training hours in both local emergency departments and on an ambulance. EMTs are a vital component of the EMS system, and most paramedics could not survive without a good EMT by their side!
For many, after getting an EMT license, the next step in their EMS career is a paramedic license. Becoming a paramedic requires over a year of additional training in medication administration and advanced medical skills that in the past were reserved only for physicians. While working in the field, paramedics could find themselves facing any number of medical emergencies and must become skilled in vital procedures such as restarting the heart of a cardiac arrest patient, intubating someone who isn’t breathing, administering naloxone to bring an overdose patient back from the brink of death, delivering babies, administering IV medications, and even more advanced techniques like emergency cricothyrotomy (establishing an airway through the front of the neck) or administering an interosseous IV (into the bone). Emergencies often present less than ideal situations for administering medical care, so paramedics must become adept at performing procedures under stressful situations and must be able to treat patients anywhere. Paramedics may find themselves treating patients in the back of ambulances driving on bumpy roads, patients pinned in flipped vehicles, patients who may be outside in bad weather or in the dark, or they may even be called upon to render aid at crowded public events with hundreds of people around – but their training, calm demeanor, and level head allows paramedics to provide excellent care even in the most trying and challenging of situations.
At the culmination of both an EMT and paramedic’s training, they must take extensive national and state licensing exams proving their competency in the field and ability to perform under pressure. After earning their license they can start applying for jobs at EMS organizations – which may have their own testing requirements that must be passed in order to be offered a job. EMS practitioners who apply for positions at one of Emergent Health Partners’ ambulance services can expect to pass a physical agility test during the interview process and upon a job offer complete a two-week training orientation before being placed into the New Employee Training (NET) program, where they are given a mentor and work in the field with more experienced EMTs and Paramedics. Upon being cleared from the NET program employees have the autonomy to take control of the calls they respond to… which could be anything from a stubbed toe to a life-or-death medical emergency. (Yes – people really call 911 for stubbed toes!)
The men and women who both drive and work out of the ambulance day-in and day-out deserve the respect of the titles they have earned. So put away that outdated “ambulance driver” misnomer – shake the hand of the next EMT or Paramedic you meet and thank them for their service to the community.
|Matt Rose has been with Huron Valley Ambulance since 2006. During his time with the organization, he has served in many capacities including EMT, Paramedic, Field Training Officer and Mobile Intensive Care Unit Paramedic. Matt currently serves as the organization’s Community Relations Coordinator and PIO.|