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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.

    6 replies to "Why EMS Gets No Respect"

    • Avatar 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.

      • Avatar Troy Shaffer


        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

      • Avatar 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.

        • Avatar Troy Shaffer


          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

    • Avatar Justin Misuraca


      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.


      • Avatar Troy Shaffer


        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

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