So, you decided on a career in EMS, now what?
Many of us think that finding our dream career is the ultimate battle. Once we find our passion, we can pursue our dreams with bliss and never look back. However, the cold, hard, reality is that this is rarely the case, especially in EMS. The field of emergency medicine is riddled with burned out, overworked, stressed, and traumatized individuals who leave the field of EMS after only a few short years and never look back. In fact, some studies show that after leaving EMS, many experience an increase in quality of life, and often in fields unrelated to EMS1. Sadly, this is no secret to those in the field, and even to many of those looking to enter the field. Many programs, at all skill levels, include courses on avoiding burnout and emphasizing self-care for EMS professionals. They include discussions on identifying behaviors that indicate stress or imminent breakdowns and provide suggestions on how to avoid mental, emotional, and physical implosion while working in this field. However, the question must be asked, is it the inherent characteristics of the field of EMS that leads to high employee turnover? Or is there more to it?
While the field of EMS is challenging, stressful, labor-intensive, and requires long hours, it seems that there are some individuals who work in the field for their entire adult lives and love it, while others walk away and happily never look back. So what is the cause for the huge disparity between the two groups? Obviously, some that enter the field never intended on being there for the long haul. EMS was the means to an end, in which case their leaving the field is statistically insignificant. However, there are many that intended on staying in the field but are not able to handle it for various reasons. Ultimately, it seems that the working environment can play a huge role in the likelihood of employee retention.
What should EMS providers look for in an employer?
Studies show that the reasons many EMS providers leave their job include low pay, increased stress load, and overall burnout2. While many of us are made to believe that stress and burnout are “part of the job” and should simply be “dealt with,” that does not at all have to be the case. When looking for employment in the field of emergency medicine, it is important to examine pay scale, opportunities for growth and advancement, options for peer and/or professional counseling, and policies on sick, personal, and/or vacation days. Preventing burnout in EMS seems to be centered around an employee’s ability to care for his or her own mental health. This includes having adequate time to exercise, sleep, prepare meals, take rest, and seek counseling for the traumas all professionals in this field inevitably encounter.
EMS is not an easy field to work in, however, it can be extremely rewarding. It simply cannot come at the cost of one’s own mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, or physical health. Therefore, seeking an employer that values family, teamwork, health, and fair compensation is critical for retaining employees who are passionate about their careers and strive daily to improve themselves as well as their agency or department. So how do you research this? Speak to professionals who work for a sampling of different agencies. Ask them tough questions about how their employers provide support to their employees. Write down the pros and cons and then submit your application to the agency you feel has the best fit.
If you are looking for a career in EMS, be sure to investigate the agency's core values as well as its mission statement. Work culture and the professional environment are what often makes or breaks a career, as well as one’s own quality of life.