Three Phases of Being a Paramedic

I have thought about this for awhile. I did some Internet searches, but came up with nothing. I even asked some of the veterans in the profession whether they’ve ever thought about it. None had, but they quickly offered their suggestions. I...


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Paramedics who make it through the Burnout Phase eventually will transition into phase three – the “Tolerant Phase.†One may even think congratulations are in order. You have made it through the Burnout Phase and survived. You can now tolerate anything that comes your way. A patient who calls at 4 o’clock in the morning because he scratched himself while he was clipping his toenails does not bother the paramedic in the Tolerant Phase. Unlike the Burnout-Phase paramedic who will try to talk the patient out of going to the hospital, the Tolerant Phase paramedic tells him to “put your shoes on and let’s go to the hospital.†In some ways, such paramedics cherish these calls because there’s no hard work to do and no ambulance to clean up. These paramedics let most things rolls off their back and generally do not get too upset about anything. They are more “tolerant†of new rules in the department that make little sense, they usually mind their own business, and they know the system backwards and frontwards. They become the seasoned veterans who have “been there and done that.†There is very little they have not seen, especially if they work in suburban or urban systems where call volumes are high. The Tolerant-Phase paramedic usually puts 20 or more years into the profession before being promoted or retiring.

Exceptions, as Always

Now, before I am bombarded with e-mails from those of you who disagree with this theory, let me add a disclaimer: I am not an industrial psychologist, so I have no scientific data to support my ideas about the three phases of the paramedic profession. They are merely my observations of the behaviors of paramedics over the years.

Second, there are always exceptions to the rule. I have seen paramedics never leave the Newbie Phase, even after 25 years of service. They are just as excited to come to work in the 25th year as they were on the first day of the job. Other paramedics seemed to be burned-out on their first day, while others skip right to the Tolerant Phase within their first six months. There will always be exceptions that skew things when you are talking about human behavior. The important thing to remember is that regardless of what phase you are in, this is a great profession with fantastic people working in it every day.


Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis, TN, Fire Department. He has 28 years of fire-rescue service experience, and previously served 25 years with the City of St. Louis, retiring as the chief paramedic from the St. Louis Fire Department. Ludwig is vice chairman of the EMS Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), has a master’s degree in business and management, and is a licensed paramedic. He is a frequent speaker at EMS and fire conferences nationally and internationally. He can be reached through his website at www.garyludwig.com.