Get to Vs. Have to

Between my blog, Twitter and my EMT class, I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of new EMTs and EMT students. It’s fun to take part in the early energy of learning emergency services. Working with EMT students is an opportunity to vicariously relive the excitement and confusion of the first cardiac arrest or major accident scene.

One thing I’ve noticed as we porgress into our chosen field is what I call the “get to – have to” shift. New EMTs get to do things. “I get to ride along for 8 hours today.” “I got to hold c-spine on scene.” “I get to do all the patient assessments today.” “I get to be the attendant next shift.” “I get my first partner assignment at the end of the week.”

Somewhere along the way we shift. We’re still doing the same job. We’re still running the same calls but somehow, someone convinced us that we don’t have a choice. We may even chose to believe that these things aren’t fun anymore. Perhaps they’re not even worth doing.

“I have to work the 8-hour car today.” “I have to do all the lifting.” “I have to do the patient assessment.” “I have to attend all day.” “I have to work with Bob again.”

Have to is much different than get to. Have to is decidedly less fun. I bet you could measure a persons life satisfaction based on the percentage of time they spend on get to vs. have to tasks. But here’s the rub … it’s all a matter of perception.

Is your next call an opportunity or drudge work? Is you next shift something you get to show up for or something you have to show up for? Finding a way to redefine it could transform the quality of your work. It may be as easy as resetting your brain back to EMT student mode.

It’s something worth thinking about for the next few minutes … unless there’s something else you have to do.


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  1. I’ve been an EMT since 1989 and I still “get to” do fun stuff.

    I’m I’m lucky, I’ll get to attend medic school this fall and get to do even more fun stuff.

    I’ve found that “get to” v. “have to” is situational. If everyone you work with is still somewhat excited about the job, we all get to do the fun stuff. Work with a disgruntled partner and “get to” changes to “have to” pretty quickly as the attitude rubs off on you. (I think pissy attitudes follow a concentration gradient, diffusing from bad to good.)

    I made a mistake of letting my certs lapse in the mid 90s and recently made a career change to get back into EMS. Even though I’ve been around for a while I still look at the glass as half full, and I’m not gonna give up any opportunity I have to “get to” do something fun/cool or interesting.

    Great post, by the way!