In 1996 I took a job about 40 minutes south of San Jose, California with a small mom-and-pop ambulance company. The service was named after the owner and had been serving a mostly rural area of northern California for a couple of decades before I arrived in town. They were, without a doubt, the worst ambulance company I ever served under.
The owner ran the place like a dictator. I started work the day after my interview on a dirty ambulance wearing an old uniform that was two sizes too large. My partner was the grumpy silent type. The station conditions were deplorable and the policies and procedures were down-right unethical. (As an example, the owner would frequently order crews to respond to scenes, after they had been canceled enroute, so that they could gather billing information from the caller.)
I worked at the service for about three weeks, then I left. I knew that nothing about that service matched with who I was as a paramedic and nothing I could do would ever change the two decades of tradition and old guard thinking that had brought them to where they were. Unlike my uniforms previous owner, I washed my threadbare shirt before I handed it back in. Then I hit the road and I didn’t look back.
I could have wasted years in that joint.
In my search for the ideal EMS employer, I’ve worked for eight different EMS organizations in two different states. The search has had its highs and lows. It was worth it. I’m proud of the organization I now work for and I’m proud to wear their uniform. I’m compensated well and I have a host of opportunities for growth and career development. I am certain that the day I retire from EMS I’ll still be wearing the same patch on my shoulder as I wear today.
There’s an essential component to my success in EMS that holds a lot of others back. You need to be willing to leave. There are a lot of bad EMS organizations out there. You aren’t going to change them. You can decide this early on or you can decide this after you’ve wasted tremendous amounts of time and effort trying to change things…and failed. It’s your choice.
Does it surprise you to hear me say that? After all the positive, motivating, upbeat content I’ve published here, does is surprise you to have me say that you should be willing to pack up and leave your workplace? Let me explain.
These are a few of your responsibilities at work:
- It’s your responsibility to be as good as you can be at this job.
- It’s your responsibility to show up to work and make a positive contribution to your workplace.
- It’s your responsibility to be present in your job and be fulfilled.
- It’s your responsibility to help good organizations be great.
- It’s your responsibility to use your talents wisely.
These are not your responsibility at work:
- It’s not your responsibility to be the messiah of your organization, sacrificing yourself for the greater good.
- It’s not your responsibility to help bad organizations be somewhat acceptable or mediocre.
- It’s not your job to be the single voice of positive productivity in an ocean of negative crap.
- It’s not your responsibility to drag your medical director, operations chief or CEO into the 21st century.
- It’s not your responsibility to waste your time, talent and effort on people who will never appreciate them.
Are you showing up to work each day frustrated about the lack of progressive medicine? Are you angry at the low standards the poor management and the awful leadership? Are you getting burned out by the long hours, lack of appreciation and life-sucking morale? It may be time to consider that the best place for you is elsewhere.
You’re too good for this. Every minute you spend in a toxic organization is a waste.
If you’re good at this EMS thing, if it is your life and your passion and you are willing to put everything into being really good at it, there are organizations who will want what you have to offer. There are places out there where the medicine is held to a higher standard and the systems are willing to pay for quality people. There are places where they value people like you. There are employers who will respect and appreciate what you have to offer. You just need to decide that you’re not willing to stand for second best anymore.
Maybe you think the stakes are too high. Perhaps you think the cost of leaving is too much for you and your family to bear. Let me ask you this; what’s the cost of staying? The short answer is, your life. That’s right, this is your life we’re talking about here. It’s a finite resource. When you were born you were given a limited number of minutes to spend here on this earth. You have to choose where you spend them. Each day you go to work you trade minutes of your life for money and experience.
It may seem like a lot of trouble to pack up, move houses, change states, change schools, leave family and friends. It may seem scary to leap forward into the great unknown. And, truth be known, perhaps you’re happier being the thorn in the side of your current employer than you’re willing to admit.
Should you stay or should you go? Big question. Just remember, in the end, you bet your life.
I’d like to know what you think about that.
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