I joined the military to protect my country, learn cool stuff, see the world, and blow stuff up with big guns. I was able to do all of it and it all was fun, but one of the best things I learned was emergency medical skills and how cool they are. One of the teams I worked on required us all to have Combat Life Savers (CLS) training, which is basically a fancy EMT for the military. When I separated, I had no idea what I wanted to do and how I could continue to serve my country. When I decided to go back to school, I saw the pamphlet for emergency medicine and thought I should give it a go. Fast forward 5 years and I am very glad I made that choice. Throughout those five years though, I have been asked more times than I can count what it takes to be an EMT and if I like it.
First off, I love it! Helping people is always a cool thing which is only made better when someone will pay you to do it. Second, at the EMT level, it is like being a redneck mechanic. I can keep you running until you see the real deal.
Becoming certified as an EMT is easier than most think, while actually working as an EMT requires much more than just that certification. The schooling is one semester long plus any needed pre-requisites, which in my case equaled an additional semester. For those of you using the G.I. Bill, this is good news. In one year, you can become certified at something that makes money and use the remaining two years to get your paramedic or other branch-offs of Emergency Medical Skills.
The one semester class is usually 8 credit hours, so it is fast paced and there is a lot to learn. This isn’t as bad as it seems though. What you need to learn is easy stuff and you probably know most of it if you are military, LE, or a country kid. You just have to be able to put everything in the right order and expand a bit. The hard part comes when you actually get out into the field and are treating real people.
Once in the field, many EMTs will be with a paramedic who makes all the big decisions and actually treats the patient, but for those of us who work in teams of EMTs only, we have to be able to treat the patient and make all the decisions, including calling for a paramedic if the patient is that bad off. This is easier than it sounds too, though. So long as you follow your checklist and move efficiently, all is well. Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
So what traits make for a good EMT? Number one is being able to stay calm under pressure. Freaking out and doing the headless chicken dance saves no lives. After that, you are gonna want to have a strong stomach. I always thought it would be the injuries themselves that would get to me. Nope. It is all of the bodily functions that end up on you and your gear that I hate. It’s not the injuries but the things that happen to injured and sick people that take getting used to before you can return to that interrupted lunch after a call.
Assuming you have the stomach for it and are able to be calm, you have to be able to stay patient. At least, on the outside. You will have calls with people who take up your time for what you feel to be stupid reasons. You will have patients who are incapable of making up their own mind and need you to guide their every move. And then some patients will call for you and then be mad that you showed up and treat you like the person who hurt them or made them sick. I have to remind myself that I have to deal with this person for the next 5 minutes to an hour while they have to live with themselves for life, giving me the good end of the deal.
So what are some of the things I learned along the way that I wish I knew beforehand?
- You do not have to be a part of a fire department or even ride on ambulances. There are several places that hire EMTs. I wasted money trying to go to school to be a firefighter, which is a very hard gig to land for a new EMT. You can work at a hospital, casinos, for security companies, and even public schools in some places.
- You should work as an EMT for a few years before you try to be a paramedic as you have to be a good EMT before you can be a good medic.
Final thought: ALWAYS bring an extra uniform set for after those really messy calls. I had a partner learn that the hard way after being soaked to the bone in blood with no change of clothes. Better her than me I always say!