How Being Burnt Out Can Ignite A Rebirth

A Guest Post By Jim Hoffman

“The EMS Professional,” “The Paramedic Mentor,” Today’s guest author, Jim Hoffman has more nicknames than a retiring prizefighter and he’s earned every one of them. From the streets of The Big Apple to New Jersey and now the secluded mountains of upstate New York, Jim has been a paramedic for the better part of two decades.

In his down time, Jim runs, a one stop shop for low cost EMS training resources. He’s also part of the team behind The EMS Boot Camp series. After a little cajoling I talked Jim into letting me post his Handover contribution as a guest post. So this is me, stealing all of Jim’s literary  goodness for you. (Thank me later.)

And now Jim:

As an EMT in a large EMS system I found myself becoming burnt and indifferent to the patients I was responding to and treating; all too often being annoyed at the calls that obviously just didn’t require an ambulance and more often didn’t even require a doctor.

While attending paramedic training in the hopes of doing more serious calls that would be true emergencies and require an ambulance, I had yet another call that seemed to be a waste of my time and energy.

I responded to a general illness call and upon arrival found a bed bound young woman in her early thirties who had a history of brain lesions.  Her primary issue that day was abdominal discomfort. While assessing the patient and getting a history, the family advised us that she rarely spoke or made any type of acknowledgment to her surroundings.

How they were able to tell she was having any complaints is beyond me. I did not note any distress but they were the family and I figured they knew better than I.

As this emergency became a “two flight of stairs carry down” and a transport to hospital, that the family could have done or perhaps utilized any number of other means to get her to her doctor or emergency department, I slowly began to get more and more annoyed with the non-emergent call my emergency ambulance was dispatched to.

Being a professional though, I refused to let my inner thoughts seep through to the family.  I did my job with a smile, asked appropriate questions and gave informative answers. Once complete, it was just me and the patient in the ambulance with my partner driving to the hospital.

Alone with the patient, I took better stock in the situation. Noting her obvious struggle with her disease; I thought how she may have felt living in this helpless condition.  Did she feel like a burden on her family, friends and even me?

Without consciously knowing, I put my hand on her shoulder and said “I know it must be hard”. Without missing a beat she looked at me and said “It really is – it really is”, in a voice that was part sob and part plea. These few words, spoken by a patient that rarely spoke or acknowledged her surroundings to an EMT who was beginning to doubt his role and career choice, resonated in my mind, silenced my doubt, and renewed my faith in the role of an EMT.  This heart wrenching call stays with me on every call I go to.  That brief moment of connection is what I think of regardless of what level of emergency care is required.  I became a better EMT and even more, I like to say I am a better human being – just for touching her shoulder and trying, with a few words, to provide a little comfort.

This one call stands out for me above so many others, big trauma, severe pediatrics and even 9/11. It always reminds me that it is the patients’ emergency we respond to and not ours. Whether they call 911 for chest pain or a cut lip; to them or their family it is an emergency and they called for help – even if that help is a band-aid, a ride to the hospital or a few words of comfort.

I like to think that perhaps acknowledging this patient’s situation let her know that she was not a burden on me. I wish I could tell her that in those few moments the small gesture I made ended up being so much bigger to me; and how it has helped to make me into a true EMS professional. It was like a reset button I needed then, but one that has never had to be pressed again.

More guest posts (And other cool stuff):

The Greatest Generation By: Matthew Bergland

Back In The Day By: Chris Framstead

EMS Response to Sexual Assault By: Jimmy Futrelle

What Makes A good EMT?

Patients Define Their Emergencies


  1. […] Whitehead hosted a post by none other than Jim Hoffman dealing with the debriding of a burnt out EMT/Medic. It’s a great read that helps prove the simple power of the […]

  2. […] Without a home for his submission, The EMS Professional, Jim Hoffman got things started with a guest post right here at The EMT Spot. (Is that cheating?) It’s interesting how our darkest moments can produce our greatest insights. Jim’s breakthrough came the day he discovered how being burnt out could ignite a rebirth. […]

  3. […] for joining.) Then we had a guest post by EMS educator extraordinaire Jim Hoffman all about burnout and rebirth and I speculated about folks who push the self destruct button on their careers. Then I kicked […]

  4. […] How Being Burned Out Can Ignite a Rebirth By: Jim Hoffman […]