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Who Want A Life Outside Of Work

EMS is more than a job.

EMS is more than a career.

EMS is more than taking care of patients.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is a lifestyle.

If you’re thinking about a career as a flight nurse, flight medic, or EMS pilot; the sooner you understand this, the better. Don’t make the mistake of thinking EMS is the typical nine to five.

EMS is anything but typical.

My best advice is to embrace the EMS lifestyle for what it is. Don’t try to fight it. Don’t try to change it. See it for what it is.

Figure out what makes EMS work best for you. Experiment a little and find your optimal work-life balance. You can have the best of both worlds – a job you love and a life you love outside of work.

Success at work (and life) is about making smart choices.

Here are ten tips to survive and thrive as EMS and air medical crew:

#1 Put Your Work Schedule On Your Family Calendar

If you want a family life outside of work, you have to let your family know when you’re on and off shift.

You also have to keep your schedule up to date.

At work, I use Google calendar with my smart phone. It’s free and it syncs across all devices. At home, I use a paper calendar on my refrigerator. My family appreciates the effort and the calendar keeps all of us up to date.

If you’re not already keeping a family calendar up to date, try it. Your spouse will appreciate it. Your kids will appreciate it. Your life will get better. Seriously.

#2 Make the Most of Technology

Technology connects the world. Use technology to connect with your family.

I worked half my air medical career out of town. When I commuted, I worked the “typical” seven days on, seven days off, pilot schedule. When I was flying in the same town, I worked a scheduled 12 hour shift (up to 14) before returning home to my family. A 14 hour day leaves little family time, with or without a commute.

How did my family stay close?


Skype, facetime, and regular phone calls kept us connected. Make it a priority to connect with your family every day . . . regardless of your EMS work schedule.

#3 Don’t Save Things Up For When You Go Off Shift

Don’t save up work for your off-shift time. If the bills need paid, throw ’em in your backpack and balance your checkbook at work.

Don’t wait until you’re off shift to start household chores. Do what you can, when you can.

Keep your off-shift time as open as possible. Plan on using this time to spend with your family.

This is even more important if you commute. Take as much “day-to-day” stuff as possible with you each week. Get it done while you’re on shift and out of town.

Your family misses you. When you come home have your schedule open to spend time with them.

#4 Focus On Getting Better

Don’t wait to start working toward your next goal. Find a seminar, class, or audio book that makes you better. Have it with you on and off shift.

The world is too busy to wait for “the right time.” Reality is the right time never comes if you wait.

If you want to make you better, the key is to take action.

Technology makes this easy. In today’s world, the only thing keeping you from your next goal, is you.

#5 Don’t Forget Your Spouse’s Career

EMS and air medical careers are intense.

When you’re saving lives, it’s easy to feel like what you’re doing is the only thing that matters.

It’s not.

Respect your spouse and what they do. Spend quality time listening to their accomplishments, goals, and dreams.

#6 Embrace The Lifestyle And Its Perks

I like Christmas shopping on weekday mornings.

I enjoy the mall the most when mall employees outnumber customers at least two to one.

Sound like fantasy island? It’s not.

Getting stuff done (including shopping) is easier when the rest of the world is at work. Take advantage of the perks of being off when the 9 to 5 world is working.

#7 Give Professional Development Its Due

Set aside time each shift for professional development.

Even if it’s only 30 minutes a shift, time spent studying your flight manual, or learning to master a new piece of equipment, is time well spent.

EMS and air medical have so much built in down time that there’s really no excuse to not stay on top of your game.

Designate a time each shift for professional development.

Be a pro.

#8 Remember You Chose This Lifestyle

It’s kind of amazing how many adults knowingly choose certain lifestyles, and then are irritated by their choices.

Don’t be that guy or gal.

Remember that EMS and air medical is a choice. You’re not stuck.

You’re smart. You’re motivated. You can do anything you choose to do.

If you’re no longer feeling the EMS and air medical happy vibe, do something else. You only get one life. And life is too short to spend it miserable.

#9 Find A Mindless Stress Reliever

Have you ever felt the zen of lawn care?

I’m serious.

Do you know the peace of mind that comes with riding a lawn mower and focusing only on making straight lines?

It’s liberating.

There’s something therapeutic about it and other “mindless” tasks.

EMS and air medical cause chronic stress. You may think it doesn’t affect you, but it does.

Find a simple, stress-relieving, mindless task to do, on and off shift. It may seem like wasted time, but it’s not.

Daytime television, although mindless, does not qualify.

#10 Make Family Your Priority

“Live to work” or “work to live.” I prefer the second choice.

When I was younger, I put too much emphasis on being a pilot. I let flying define me, instead of me defining it. My family time suffered because of it.

I wasn’t the husband or father I wanted to be. I was too self-absorbed and caught up in work. I couldn’t see the bigger picture.

Seven words simplified my life:

Flying is a job. Family is forever.

I hope these ten tips help you reach your fullest potential in EMS and air medical – AND love your life outside of work.


What works for you? Do you have any tips for future EMSers and flight crews? Share one in the comment section below.

Troy Shaffer
Troy Shaffer

About the Author: Troy is an Air Medical Career Expert passionate about a team approach to improving air medical safety from the ground up. Troy is a former Army medic, Army pilot, Coast Guard pilot and EMS pilot. Troy has taught hundreds of wannabe flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots the exact steps needed to launch air medical careers.

    6 replies to "10 Survival Tips For EMS and Air Medical Crew"

    • Ann Merklin RN/EMT retired

      Troy, these steps are SO meaningful! I hope ALL who read them gather the info needed to survive the EMS life! It is a choice that we make for a career, not a continuous, all-consuming life style…..though it may seem like it at times! Happened to me, but I’m still here! Yes, there IS life on your days off! Make those precious hours count! Your family will appreciate it! (Then there are the calls for “Can you work today, so & so called in sick”? Been there, and done that. Once I fell ill at work, and needed to go home as I didn’t want to further compromise my patients with my ‘bugs’. They told me “We can’t replace you”. I said “You know what, if I dropped dead right now, you’d have to”!! They found someone.) OK Troy, thanks for reading my chatter! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and Christmas! I know some will be working and I always pray special blessings and safety for them, and ALL of you! Brian often worked the holidays as he was single and wanted to give someone a chance to be home. Love that boy! God bless you and your thousands of crew members! Be safe out there, and yes, I DO look up or around when I hear those familiar sounds, and say a prayer for the safety of all involved in that call!

      • Troy Shaffer


        Thanks for your kind and thoughtful words of wisdom. I sincerely appreciate you sharing your experience with all of us at EMS Flight Safety Network. It’s exciting when experienced people like yourself want to share your knowledge and help others.

        I’m glad to hear your past employer survived without you and found a replacement for you. Isn’t it crazy the pressure we put on EMS folks? And you know the deal better than anyone. The better the job you do, the more pressure you get. Thanks again for sharing.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

    • Curtiss Orde

      Great advice. Thank you for sharing it. I will use these tips as I teach new EMTs.

      • Troy Shaffer


        You’re very welcome! I’m glad to hear you found the tips useful. Let me know how everything works out for your EMT students.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

    • Alice Dycus

      Be safe all of you and God bless you all!!!!

      • Troy Shaffer


        Thanks for your support. EMS Flight Safety Network appreciates you!

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

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