By Devin Kerins, B.A., MICP
Aug. 13, 2011
So you passed your EMT class, found an ambulance to climb aboard and are now contemplating taking the plunge into the next phase of EMS? Or perhaps you're a 'seasoned pro' EMT who is wondering if you should advance your career? Either way, you're probably wondering when the time is right. It's a huge commitment in time, with great responsibilities and even greater personal reward, but whether or not the time is right is never an automatic 'yes.' So let's start by examining the most important patient of all -- you!
The first question you need to ask yourself is "Why did I want to be a paramedic? We all have our own reasons for getting into EMS. Some get into it out of a genuine altruistic desire to help people. Some get into it because it's a great stepping stone to a career as a nurse or physician. If you're like me, you got into it because you get to drive a flashy truck, scoff at major traffic laws, and chicks dig the uniform. Okay, well that isn't entirely true. But I did want to help people and did want to go to medical school -- we'll just gloss over the fact that I failed organic chemistry miserably. But ask yourself, why do you want to be a paramedic? Do you want to do it because of a need to do more for your patients? Do you want to do it because it is a logical progression in career? Do you want to do it because the pay is better and you want to provide for your family? Whatever your reason, hold onto it, because it will be your driving motivation through the arduous medic program. Just make sure your reasons for wanting to be a medic are strong and rational enough to push you through the next two thousand hours of school and clinical time.
Next you need to question yourself and see "How much experience do I really have?" Is the ink still dryin on your EMT card? If so, now might not be the right time for you. Sure, you can find a paramedic program who will gladly accept you and take your money, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right thing to do. As Groucho Marx said, "I wouldn't want to be part of any club who would have me as a member" -- it shouldn't be that easy. Give yourself some time to learn the basics first. Experience some stressful situations and see how you react. Watch someone die and see how it affects you (Please note: I am in no way advocating you do anything to hasten that one along). No one in EMS has ever seen it all and done it all, but you can see a lot and do a lot, and it's important to see and do as much as possible to know how you'll react in stressfull situations. Remember, as stressful as you think being an EMT is, there isn't much you can do to kill a patient -- short of running them over with the ambulance or tossing them down a flight or two of staris. As a paramedic, you truly hold someone's life in your hands. If you think that's dramatic, give a read through all of the various medications and procedures paramedics carry and can perform and see how easily at least half of those could terminate someone's existence.
Finally, ask yourself "what kind of student am I?" If you just barely eeked by in EMT school because you never opened your book or human resources policies prevented the school from failing you out, now is definitely not the time for you. If you can't remember what kind of student you were because it has been so long since you were in a formal education setting, now might be the time for you but I'd recommend doing some research on better studying techniques. If you have a thirst for knowledge, and a realistic appreciateion of how much of your life has to be devoted to passing your class, then this is the right time for you. Paramedic school requires a lot of studying. You owe it to yourself and your future patients to make it your top priority for the next two years to study you trade and hone your skills.
Once you've done the above soul-searching, look at your current situation in life tnd see if you can devote the time you'll need to school. If the answer is a resounding 'no', do not force yourself. Wait for you situation to change, and try to learn as much as possible from the paramedics around you in the meantime. If the answer is a 'maybe' it might shock you to read me say "go ahead and do it!" Unless you absolutely, positively cannot do it at this particular moment, I strongly encourage you to go for it if there is a chance. If not, something in life will inevitably come along to derail your motivation train. There will always be money problems, there will always be family problems, but you need to push through if you think there is a chance. Otherwise, you'll watch you opportunity waltz right by.
This blog isn't meant to discourage anyone from being a paramedic. It is to set you up with some manageable expectations. Paramedic school isn't brain surgery, but it isn't a walk in the park. It can be a lot of information to process, but it's not organic chemistry (who doesn't love call-back jokes?). But above all else, paramedic school requires a major commitment of you. Make sure that you are ready to fulfill that commitment with the very essence of your being. Peoples' lives really do depend upon you now, and you need to takle that seriously.
Having said all that, good luck with your decision. And regardless of whether or not you decide to go on to paramedic school, be the best EMT you can possibly be!
Devin Kerins is a 17 year veteran of emergency services in New Jersey. He has been a paramedic for the past 8 of those. He is also a career emergency manager, serving as the Planning Section Chief for a regional incident management team. He has parlayed his love of the job, eye for detail, and sarcastic humor into writing. His books of EMS anecdotes "EMS: The Job of Your Life" and "EMS 2: The Life of Your Job are cult classics among EMT's and paramedics around the country. His novels "Aim High" and "Lotto Fever" are also available online.