Ten Reasons I Work In EMS

I was recently asked by a reader to explain why I work in EMS. It’s a compelling question. Sometimes, browsing through the blogsphere, you can feel like you’re inundated with content explaining why you shouldn’t work in EMS.

It’s strange. In a line of work as interesting, diverse and unique as ours, you’d think our blogs would read like a fan page for a band called EMS, but that’s just not the case. How to survive in EMS, how to scrape by and how to “fix” EMS seem to be the relevant topics of the day. I thought this readers question was a great opportunity to go on the record and say that there are a lot of good reasons to work in EMS. Here are ten.

It’s different.

I’ve learned that I don’t do well with routine. I couldn’t spend my work life in a cubicle. I’d rather chew tinfoil than show up each day and do the same thing. EMS is infinitely variable. Just when you think you’ve seen it all someone will pick up the phone, dial 911 and prove you wrong.

It’s human.

Unlike so many jobs and careers, medicine is profoundly human. We interact with people and see the full spectrum of the human condition. Few people clean the house or put on their Sunday best before they dial 911. We see a very real slice of humanity in EMS. Being a patient is a, “come as you are.” experience.

It’s huge.

I mean, it’s everywhere. You can go anywhere on the planet and practice medicine. The opportunities are truly endless. I practice EMS in a major urban center but I’ve also practiced it in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Early next year I’ll go out into the jungles of northern Panama and practice EMS there too. I mean really, it’s huge.

It’s challenging.

You will never master emergency medicine. The vast well of knowledge that is medicine grows far faster than you can learn and absorb it. You can dedicate a lifetime to the understanding of this one small facet of medicine and you’ll still only scratch the surface.

It’s fun.

The people are fun and the work is fun. This can actually take some folks a long time to learn. We get so caught up in the seriousness of EMS that we don’t really enjoy the process of running calls together. One of the benefits to sticking with the job long enough to achieve a level of comfortable competence is that you can really start to relax and have fun.

It’s variable.

Two weeks ago, I spent two full days riding a bike around a senior PGA tour event. I was on the medical response team. Last week I was backstage at the Iron Maiden concert. I was on fire watch duty. After 20 years in EMS the job is still filled with first time experiences. I’ve lost count of the seemingly endless parade of lifetime firsts that I’ve logged on the job.

It’s timeless.

People always had medical emergencies and people will always have medical emergencies. When they do, they’re going to want someone like you around. That’s kinda nice when you think about it.

It’s fulfilling.

I don’t get people who don’t feel fulfilled in this line of work. Well, OK, maybe I do get them. So let me clarify. If you do your job to gratify yourself and your ego, EMS isn’t very fulfilling. If you do your job to be of service to others, EMS is very fulfilling.

It matters.

Sure most everyone’s job matters. But some folks have to reach farther than others to explain how their job matters to others and to their community. In EMS it reaches out and smacks you in the face. To every single person who calls for your service you matter. The job you do, the service you provide and how well you provide it all matter.

It enlightens.

This job gives us a unique and privileged perspective on the human condition. One that is hard for people in other lines of work to understand. You just can’t do CPR on someone’s husband and then go home and be angry about the coffee stain on your rug. You can’t take someone’s child to the emergency room for a rare respiratory condition and then go home and yell at your kid for not cleaning his room.

EMS gives us an amazing perspective on what’s really important in life. It’s a perspective that few people have. It’s a perspective that’s reserved for those who experience great tragedy and those who help. We get the perspective without the grief. It’s a gift. It’s a gift than many EMS caregivers leave unopened. That’s a shame.

If you need any evidence of the unopened gifts, just take a look around the EMS blogsphere.

Now it’s your turn: Why do you work in EMS? Leave us a comment and let everyone know.

Or Just Read More Stuff:

Where Do You Put The Fear?

Six Reasons Why You Should Be A Better EMT

The Ultimate EMS Protocol

You Can’t Give Away What You Don’t Have

EMT Basic Skills Are Not Basic


  1. Every now and then this job grabs me by the throat and makes me feel alive. Truly alive, all cylinders firing. I’m not talking about the mega codes, trauma, lights and siren stuff. I’m talking about the connection between two human beings and the magic that happens in the back of the rig.

  2. Timothy Clemans says:

    “Why do you work in EMS?”

    There was an interesting section in ABC’s new documentary series “Boston Med” where an emergency medicine resident responded to a code in another unit. It was a disaster. 50 people showed up. The resident who was supposed to be leading stopped leading and tried to intubate. Which she failed. Not a good day.

    That’s the very type of situation that interests me. That’s the very reason I’m interested in EMS. This whole notion of leadership in the street, in someone’s home, at 3am.

    I just really like this idea of challenges that most people want to run away from. And on top of that there’s the reward of doing emergency care in your patients’ environments. You’re coding a 55 YOM in the presence of family photos. I’ll take that any-day over the ED.

    I think another thing that has me interested in EMS is just how young the profession is. Because of how young it is there’s so many opportunities to go out and do things that haven’t been done before. It’s also neat that innovations in EMS are starting to change the way hospitals do business, see EMS Driving Hospital Care.

  3. Life at its rawest. Life at its most basic level.

    Human interactions, emotions. Life on the road.

    Philosophical, that midnight transfer, lazily staring out the window with the streetlight swooshing past.
    Altruism, Nana needs a lift from the floor, the genuine thanks flowing from her mouth. Energy, the young bloke on drugs kicking and screaming, being restrained by 8 policemen.

    And many more.

  4. It’s about a number of things:

    Challenge. It is never routine, and it is not always easy, but it is always interesting.

    Variety. It’s always something different.

    Education – of me. I always learn something new on every call I go on.

    Most of all, it’s about the people. Everyone is different, and everyone has a story. And that is what makes it worth going to work every day.

  5. To me EMS is like witnessing your own childs birth. Sure people can told or taught the procedures or told the details, see movies of it or even be in the room to be a friends coach, but when it’s yours and you experience it there’s really no way to describe it to someone who has never had that experience.

    Why am I in EMS? For the human touch, the stories. Wether its a 90 year old telling you about the day he landed on beaches of Normandy, or 9 year old telling you how he had built that ramp for his bike himself, they’re facinating to me. The variables are endless not only in the type of calls we get but the people as well.

    Albert Einstein said that he feared that our technology had surpassed our humanity. I think EMS is the one job in which that does not apply no matter what technological advances come along. There is no machine that can be the calm within the storm. That takes …well… us.

  6. The system I work in has several trucks that handle only routine transfers, a few trucks that handle emergency calls only, and one truck that does both. I currently work on the truck that does both. We gripe about being the busiest rig in the county, and handling all of the difficult calls that the transport only part of our service drops in our lap. Most people don’t last more than two years here before transfering to the 911 only side or quitting. Having been denied a recent transfer request I was feeling the disappointment of having to take a medium distance transfer late in a shift a few weeks back, it turned out to be one of the most memorable calls I’ve had recently. This was a routine transfer from a local hospital to an extended care facility. The patient had developed an infection in his right hand about a year ago. No point of origin had been found and he had spent nearly a year in the hospital undergoing painful wound care treatments attempting to scrape out the infection. The end result was the nearly total loss of function of his dominant hand. “Dave” had such a positive outlook on life despite what you or I would find to be a great excuse for self pity. Speaking with him about his life experience (he is in his late 70s), his family, and everyday life, I felt ashamed about how small the problems I often complain about truly were. I felt honored to be allowed to spend time with “Dave”, and realized that had my transfer request been granted, I’d never have met him.

    Don’t ever underestimate the power of the human contact in this job. Even the most routine call can be a true learning experience. EMS is more than just treating acute medical needs. Sometimes, a patient can teach you more than you will ever learn in any classroom.

  7. Sean Fontaine says:

    Humbling-you will make mistakes, accept it. Scary-at times you will be scared, accept this too, but be scared on the inside, you’re paid to move towards the trouble not away from it and be calm while you’re doing you’re job (remember being calm means not yelling/people panic when others yell and when they panic their brains shut off), my worst calls were also the most quiet in the back of the ambulance (“never mistake movement for action”-Hemingway). Rewarding-what you can do for your patients and what you can learn from your patients/they’re great teachers. Plus a hug, smile, or a kind word from a patient can make you smile for days. Endless opportunities to learn-this goes back to humbling, when you feel the smartest get ready to learn a hard lesson, embrace learning as a constant during your career, once you think you know it all, its time to leave. Excellent opportunities to reach out to people who have no other viable avenue for a healthcare professional to listen to and help them. Perspective-you will see the world in a manner that few others will ever have the ability to see it/seemingly frozen in time (as in cardiac arrests) and you will realize that for most of us what can be perceived as tough times in our lives, is pretty slight in comparison to many of our patients. The people you come in contact with all leave their mark and you will be better for it if you allow yourself, that contact is powerful and addictive. Unfortunately, there is the fact that you will likely have some calls that you will never shake, never talk away or make complete peace with, you have to find a non-destructive manner to deal with this, I work through them over and over until I find some measure of resolution then they get buried (running helps immensely with this as well) and I remember my beautiful wife and two boys. All in all I don’t know what else I could wake up excited to do each day like I do my job. Looking forward to the unknown of each day, the learning, the conversations w/patients, working through differentials, treatments, and constantly moving forward. The pleasure and the pain of the job are yours alone and as difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t understand as it would be if you were justifying drinking mustard.
    Thanks for putting this out there Steve because we really do have the best job and its good to remember why we love.

  8. why do you work EMS

    it is the people that is why not when you save some one it is when you go in that door and see the fear in there eyes and it comes right back at you and your like wow i am scared too. it is thows thank yous for doing your job i didnt start working ems for the glory it was for the PEOPLE

  9. I love what I do for a living! I have tried leaving ems only to come crawling back on my hands and knees. I have managed to take my 15 plus years of experience and make it work in production, ski patrol, and event medicine and teaching. No more ambulances for me but god what I have learned on the job cannot be taught.

  10. A couple weeks ago I had a patient who attempted suicide. Me and my partner try to have a good time with our patients and this patient told us that she cannot even be depressed around us. Hearing that really hit home and anytime I have a bad day I think of what she said and remember why I got into ems and love my job.

  11. Ive only just started with actual credentials. My whole life ,I have always had a severe want and need to help others. I always thought I would not be good enough or I would do the wrong things. One day I woke up at 44 mind you and realized that in my life , I have saved people and vice versa . A girl in a club I worked was found cyanotic in the rest room , with out a thought ,I responded Like I had been doing it for years. I began CPR and at the point I knew that this was MY LIFE was when the color filled her face and body as her heart began beating and she was breathing and then ofcourse 10 mins later , The real EMS showed up!! LOL this was a busy downtown area (lots of traffic and other calls. This was the day I knew what I was meant to do. Honor, Respect and at all costs ,Never give up on life!!!

  12. I’m still not sure why I joined EMS. I can have awful days and good days. But I know no matter what I did the last night- be it a stubbed toe, chest pain or nothing at all, I always look forward to starting my shift. And if I can look forward to my job even with all the politics that go on at my corps, well then there must be something I love about it.


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