10 Ways To Earn EMS Respect

—And What To Do About It.

What is a life worth?

That’s the argument I hear a lot.

If I save people’s lives, why don’t I get the same respect as doctors?

It’s a fair question.

But here’s the thing. Respect isn’t about fairness or even job performance alone. Plain and simple, respect is earned. And there’s a lot that goes into how respect is earned.

Another complaint I hear a lot is how Emergency Medical Services (EMS) always seems to take a backseat to fire and police services.

For a long time I completely blew this off. I figured the complaints were just normal venting. To a certain extent, it’s human nature to think “the grass is always greener” somewhere else.

I get it.

I understand how easy it is to get disillusioned with lack of positive change over time.

And that’s truly what I thought was the cause of most EMS venting.

But over time, as I coached more and more EMS professionals who wanted to fly, the complaints grew. Complaints kept coming regardless of the person’s background, education or experience.

Are the concerns about how EMS is treated legitimate? Does EMS really take a backseat to Fire and Police services?

It truly depends on what you want to believe. You get to choose.

But, and this the important part…

If you believe EMS is taking a backseat to other professional services, it’s up to you to fix the problem. Seriously, it’s up to you. It’s not okay to identify a problem and then do nothing. If you take a hands-off approach, you’re literally making yourself part of the problem.

Don’t be part of the problem. Take the right actions to fix the problem.

Here are 10 Ways to Get Respect In EMS

1. Show Your Value as an EMS Employee

Show, don’t tell.

Show others your value as an EMS employee. Gaining respect for EMS starts with you.

The moment you first enter the workplace, you must immediately show others your worth and unique value as an employee. It starts with how you do the basics. How you complete individual tasks that clearly fall within your scope of practice.

Your skill level absolutely makes a difference in how you and EMS at large is perceived.

2. Interact with Your Co-workers and Care About Their Lives

EMS is a team sport.

You will not thrive or even survive an EMS career if you don’t look out for others.

It kind of goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

You can’t look out for others until you make a sincere effort to get to know others. Take the time to find out what makes your EMS partners tick. They’ll be happy you did, and you’ll be better for it.

3. Speak Calmly and Listen to Others

When pilots learn emergency procedures in a helicopter, one of things they’re taught is “no fast hands.”

“No fast hands” refers to how a pilot reacts to an emergency.

It’s important pilots remain calm. It’s not okay to shut down engines or turn off critical flight systems without first confirming what is really happening. Is the emergency really what they think it is? Are you sure? No fast hands until you’re certain.

The same is true of EMS jobs. You can’t control how badly things go at an accident scene. But you can control your reaction to it. Your reaction matters.

Your ability to speak calmly and listen to others during times of extreme chaos makes a big difference in how much respect you earn from others.

4. Do More Than Is Expected

Nobody respects a slacker.

It’s never okay to consistently do the bare minimum. And it’s never okay to do more than the minimum if your only motivation is yourself.

Look for ways to improve processes. Find ways to make improvements by saving people time and the company money. It’s usually not hard to spot waste in aviation or medicine.

The opportunities are everywhere.

5. Show Self-Confidence, But Know Your Limits

Getting respect in the EMS workplace is a delicate balancing act.

You must be willing to take on extra work and special projects; and still set limits with your employer when it comes to overtime and your priorities outside EMS work.

Do the EMS job well, but don’t let it consume you.

Here is an article that will help you get started: 10 Survival Tips for EMS and Air Medical Who Want a Life Outside of Work

6. Respect Co-workers (and Supervisors) Even If You Don’t Like Them

In a perfect world there would be no conflict. But, the world’s not perfect.

EMS is extended family in many ways. But as you probably already know, not all families get along 100% of the time.

It’s not all hand-holding and singing Kum-bah-yah. There are real disagreements and real conflicts in EMS.

What’s important is how you treat others during the moments of conflict. You don’t need to like or even agree with a co-worker or boss to support them. How you treat others goes a long way to earning your own respect from others.

7. Dress The Part

No secrets here.

People can and do make snap judgements about you.

How you dress makes a difference.

Think of your own experiences. Are you more inclined to give your attention to a person who is neat, fit and trim? Or a person who is sloppy, overweight and out of shape?

I’m not saying it’s right, or fair, or even how it should be. But how you dress definitely plays a part in how much respect your earn.

Here is an article that may give you more ideas about how to gain respect in the EMS workplace  — 10 Ways To Make A Great First Impression In a Flight Interview.

8. Have Patience with Others

Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes.

How you treat people makes a difference in terms of how much or how little respect you earn. Patience and kindness go a long way toward earning respect from others. Remember that you too were once a beginner at one time in your EMS career.

Patience with new people, as well as seasoned veterans learning new tricks, is important for establishing your own credibility — and earning respect from your co-workers and supervisors.

9. Share Your Knowledge

It’s not enough to just be good at your job.

You need to share what you know with others. Again, remember that EMS is a team sport.

As you gain experience in EMS, sharing your knowledge should become a natural extension of how you operate. It should be part of who you are and how you work.

Think back to a person who helped you succeed in EMS. Did they share their knowledge or hoard it for themselves? And who do you respect more?

10. Don’t Repeat EMS Gossip

Gossip destroys a lot of EMS careers and hurts a lot of good folks.

There’s really nothing good to come from repeating EMS (or any other kind) gossip.

Don’t do it.

Rise above it.

Your peers and supervisors will respect you for not participating.

What To Do Now

So what do you do now? Where do you start to earn respect for yourself and the EMS profession?

Start by reminding yourself that earning respect is a process, not an event.

There’s no single event that guarantees respect over time. It’s all the little things you do over a career. Stay positive, treat others how you want to be treated, and follow the ideas above.


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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.

    7 replies to "Why EMS Gets No Respect"

    • jim

      This is all well and good for the individual that is in the service but does nothing for the service as a whole…. the entire system is not respected but the community at large.

      We work way more hours for the same benefits and things as simple as vacation time is based on a 40 hour work week with all employees in a county or hospital based service and EMS loses the extra time that is built in to the service.

      In most services that I have worked for over the years it is not so much the respect inside the system as it is outside. we are the redheaded stepchild of the health care field. this has always been the case and seems always will be. You can look around and see Police and Fire are constantly being shown respect and EMS is seldom if ever referred to at all.

      I work in a county that has Fire and EMS as separate systems if EMS does anything the Fire dept. gets any and all the credit for it. I don’t mind the job and I don’t mind the hours or I would not have done this for the past 27 years but it would be nice to not be called an ambulance driver after all I have earned that but seems like it is a derogatory remark that is here to stay.

      • Troy Shaffer

        Jim,

        Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.

        You’re right and you make some really good points. But getting the public and other services to respect EMS starts with the individuals within EMS.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

      • Steve Church

        EMT’s and Paramedics will NEVER get respect until we come together as a singular collective and speak as one on a national or worldwide platform.

        We must follow the path of organizational success forged by our brothers and sisters in blue.

        This will give way to a broad opportunity to educate the general public as to what we really are. What it takes to be an EMT or Paramedic.

        Only then will we be recognized by the lay person as a true medical professional. Only then will the benefits given to the LEO’s and Firefighters be fully extended to us.

        • Troy Shaffer

          Steve,

          Thanks for sharing your perspective and opinion.

          There’s really no way to argue that unionization hasn’t benefited both police and fire services enormously.

          I don’t know if the same model would work for EMS or not. But again, I appreciate you sharing your experience and opinion.

          Clear Skies & Tailwinds

    • Justin Misuraca

      Troy,

      Great advice. Those are sentiments I have expressed over and over to new hires and applicants alike. It’s a personal experience that is reflected on the organization as a whole. I remember in basic training hearing the instructor say “If you look like a slob, so do I”. It’s true. When one person is a jerk or looks like a slob, it is reflective on all of us. If the person is a well-dressed, polite provider, it makes us all look good.
      Strong work and thanks for your service.

      Justin

      • Troy Shaffer

        Justin,

        Thanks for sharing your experience.

        Many EMS professionals wear a uniform for the first time when they begin their EMS careers. They don’t all have military experience to fall back on. The point is they sometimes need a little extra time and / or training. It’s definitely worth the effort to make sure all EMS gets the training it needs.

        Thanks again for commenting and sharing your experience.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

    • Kapena Hill

      kapena_hill@yahoo.com
      I think all of your suggestions are great ones that we should all try to follow.
      In my 29 years thus far in EMS as an EMT, Paramedic, flight Medic, and in every role, I’ve do all those things you suggested. Many of us have, with little effect.
      Obscurity as a medic isn’t anything new, but when that obscurity creates state, county, and federal officials, lawmakers, and those who control funding and laws regulating EMS to overlook us when it comes to funding and inclusion, we all have a much bigger problem that we face.
      In the world of private EMS, we are held back by the corporate penny-pushers who are there to assure the largest profits, the least amount of liability, while they focus on their career ladder and resumes. I have personally seen this happen for far too long.
      I work in an island state where we have a state EMS system which oversees the operation of 4 different counties, all separated by water, and each county with their own separate contracts which are administered and overseen by the state office. We have two counties served by municipal services- one is by the fire department, and the other by a 3rd service county EMS service, while the two remaining counties are serviced by the same private provider. That private provider is also present on every island except one which is privately owned and doesn’t have any emergency services (police, fire, or EMS).
      The municipal services benefit from additional financial and operational resources available to them through their respective counties, while the counties served by the private EMS provider, has a limited budget, and gets left out of most planning and is unable to benefit from grants for equipment, training, etc.
      Many federal agencies, the military, and some larger companies will go directly to the fire department, assuming they do EMS, for training purposes and event planning, and even to distribute donated equipment, that was meant for us. We don’t see the equipment until we co-respond to 911 calls and it’s brought out or talked about during the rare training incidents we may do together. “Out of sight, out of mind”, or something like that.
      This last year has highlighted the issue and the total lack of respect or concern for EMS here, when we were told of statewide cuts that will result in the closing of multiple EMS units in every county. During a pandemic…,a healthcare crisis, they cut funding to EMS. Fire and police did not face the same cuts, and even state fire service officials bragged about their current “unlimited budget”.
      Grocery store employees here have better access to Covid related testing, and to mental health well-being programs through their employer than we do as EMTs and Paramedics. We are sent to free community mass testing sites and given a 1-800 number for EAP access.
      EMS mental health is unimportant to the state office that oversees the statewide service and contracts, and we sadly receive the cheapest and easiest access that the company would provide. Any one in EMS for any length of time will understand that a phone call will not work, and that being some name and number on a therapist’s schedule equates to a very impersonal experience. That usually means no follow up appointment, and therefore the process stalls and fails.
      We are under funded, and Ill prepared for catastrophe, due to lack of foresight, pre-planning, and understanding by many within our state government and individual departments.
      The rare opportunities we did have for networking, and to hear and learn from others outside our “bubble” was discontinued by the same state leaders. This requires individual travel to national conferences, etc, which has all but stopped due to the coronavirus travel and gathering restrictions.
      As EMS professionals here, there are many that have followed your prescribed to-do list for years prior to its printing, but have always been held back by management, bureaucrats and legislative failures.
      In my opinion, it needs to come from the bottom and the top. We can only do so much and go so far. We need support and recognition from the top. The highest federal bodies that administers EMS to the nation need to talk to the people that do the job, and they need to know what the issues are in large cities and small towns. If such a body doesn’t exist, then it should be created. We are not all fire, nor are we all private. Third services, hospital based, volunteers, and even the few law enforcement run services need to be taken into consideration and made a part of all decision making and funding opportunities.
      Recognition from the highest levels will trickle down, just as every other opinion and decision does.
      I read other articles on this topic that seemed to point the finger at the individual EMTs and Paramedics for either causing the lack of acknowledgement of our service and profession, and also accusing us of making it all up in our heads. I found it to be offensive and condescending.
      I think yours made excellent points and has great advice to follow for those who haven’t already realized their role and how to go about promoting EMS through personal choices, actions, and inclusion.
      Now we need to hope for someone at the federal level to feel the same way and keep us relevant and included from the top down.

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