The Problem With Indifference

“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it is indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it is indifference.”  -Eli Wiesel (Holocaust survivor and author of the book Night.)

Sometimes we equate behaviors like anger and frustration to burnout. I often disagree. It isn’t the angry EMS worker or the frustrated employee that concerns me, it’s the indifferent one.

Anger is OK. Don’t be afraid of your anger or the anger of others. Anger means that we sense injustice and we care enough about it to want to take action. Angry people have done some great things. As long as we find respectful and appropriate outlets for our anger, it can be a very powerful emotion.

The same goes for frustration. Frustration is the birthplace of innovation. Frustration is often what we experience right before our breakthroughs. Frustration tells us that we are still ingarged and we haven’t given up.

Neither of these are burnout.

Burnout is the point when we no longer care. Burned out individuals may still see the injustice. They may still sense the need for a breakthrough. They may even be able to define it. The difference is that they no longer care.

Indifferent caregivers  are dangerous. Avoid them like the plague. You have permission to feel angry. You have permission to feel frustrated. You never have permission to be indifferent.

If you find yourself at a point of indifference, it’s time to move on.

What do you think?


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. The very nature of what we do is wrapped up in a lot of emotion. From the pain and suffering of our patients to the anger and offense of crime and abuse.
    We certainly don’t go into this line of work for the money, fame or groupies. We do this because we care. When that goes away, what holds us to this profession?


  2. Steve Whitehead says:

    @Maddogmedic Sometimes I wonder what holds some people in the profession long after they have stopped caring. I don’t know what it is…but some folks will hand around long after the point of burnout.

  3. wifeofffemt says:

    I agree with everything that was stated. Where my husband and I run we encounter alot of indifferent EMT/ and medics. Sad Really that the patient has to succomb to such a travesty of no care. My husband always says who cares about pictures, newspaper articules.. I am here for that person whos day has just gotten as worse as it can get, if I can make them smile or feel a little bit more comfortable then I have done my job. If only everyone in this profession felt the same way.

  4. Sometimes I get angry and frustrated that I can not allow myself to be indifferent.

  5. Sadly I can back this up by saying I’m ‘that guy’. I lost my sense of compassion and tried everything anyone could suggest to cope with the burnout, but in the end I ended up as the paramedic that doesn’t care anymore. So my solution was to jump ship after a year of not caring, I still help those I know still in the job as I have the experience (hence why I visit the site), but I’ve moved on to being a mechanic (which I find funny when I’m fixing an amb). To anyone else there like me, do the right thing for everyone and get out. If it comes back later, wonderful, but until then it’s time to leave.

  6. Anger and/or frustration are not necessary to change things, butr a dissatisfaction with low quality may be.

    I disagree about expressing ourselves respectfully. We should not show too much respect for people who do not deserve respect. That only minimizes the respect we show for those who do deserve respect.

    Sometimes the best way to change things is to humiliate the people responsible, but it is preferable to persuade them in a collegial fashion.


  7. I agree with everything above, but have a question. How do we change this? I see this problem as chronic throughout EMS, but really dont know how to go about changing attitudes. I can work to make sure I am not apathetic, but how do we deal with the apathetic partner, knowing we have to work with them. If we call them out/humiliate them it makes for a horrible working relationship. If we don’t we have to deal with the knowledge that sub par (though within protocol, so not necessarily wrong) patient care is being provided. Anyone have some experience/advice on this?

  8. An excellent summary and some excellent comments. Rogue Medic is a think tank and I appreciate the raw nature of Rogue Medic’s posts and although I may not always agree with them, they are honest, intense and raw, just like the EMS industry. In the case of an indifferent provider, I’m not sure I would work to humiliate them as much as I would work to open doors to allow them to escape or point out their need to re-define their perspective. I think humiliation leads to alienation.

    I know that I have been indifferent a few times in my career. EMS is demanding and the industry can be overwhelming. I think of indifference as a temporary reprieve for an overloaded amydala as much as it is a warning sign that a re-assessment and re-definement of contributing factors is necessary.