Longevity wasn’t something I thought too much about when I was in my twenties. As a new EMT my older, more experienced counterparts seemed to have lots of advice about protecting my long term career viability and I appreciated their input. But I rarely took their advice.
Now it’s my turn to be the older, more experienced prehospital provider. It’s time for me to take my stab at the longevity subject. Yes, I know that giving you this advice makes me sound old. It’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Your future is coming. You will, with almost certainty, arrive at your future. As improbable as it seems right now, one day, you will be 30 and then 40 and then 50. Your older years are coming. And they are closer than you might imagine. I was fortunate to heed just enough good advice in my youth to enjoy good health and comfortable finances as my career passes it’s half-way point.
Here’s some of the best advice I received in my EMS youth:
1) Protect your back.
I don’t mean that in the colloquial sense. I mean literally…protect your back. While you are at it, take care of your knees as well. I’ve seen too many good EMS careers cut short because of a single, nagging back injury. Knee injuries may be a little more hit and miss, but back injuries are preventable.
The proliferation of back injuries in EMS are not entirely due to the work environment. For certain, carrying a limp, heavy patient down their staircase at 2:00 AM is a high risk task. But most back injuries begin long before the actual day or moment of injury. Protecting your back starts with weight control, strength and fitness. Being fit for duty is the single best thing you can do to protect your spinal column.
The second best thing you can do is use discretion when lifting. Wait for appropriate resources. Use lifting aids when available and asking for help even when the lift is within your ability. Save the big lifts for controlled environments like the gym. When it’s time to tackle the patients narrow, rickety staircase, ask for help.
2) Contribute the maximum to your 401K.
It’s a no-brainer. Yet, so few of us actually do it when we are young. Your younger years are a financial boon for your 401K. Did you know that if you contributed $2,000 to your 401K when you were 19, 20 and 21 years old respectively and then never put in another penny, you’d have more money at 65 than if you contributed $2,000 every year from 22 years old onward? (Source: Your Money or Your Life? By: Joe Domingez)
It doesn’t seem possible until you understand the concept of compounding interest. When you’re young, you can truly get the power of compounding interest on your side. The problem is, most of us never take advantage of this concept. Because, really, who’s ever going to be fifty anyway?
Another huge advantage to using your 401K plan is that you can take advantage of your employers matching plan. (If they have one.) If your employer has a 401K matching plan and you’re not taking advantage of it, you are literally walking away from free money every month. Not just the money that is being offered each month, the money that could be accumulated over the next 20, 30 or 40 years. You are giving away thousands of dollars.
3) Complete your college education.
It isn’t as hard as you think. And the older you get, the more difficult it is to find the time to make it happen. If you think that a college education takes to much time, money and energy, I can tell you this is a certainty. Marriage, children and increasing work responsibilities will not make a college education any easier in the coming years.
You might be surprised by how simple and inexpensive it is to convert your current EMS education and experience into an online degree. You can go to The College Network right now, give them your contact info, and a representative will consult with you on your personal online education needs. It’s simple, it’s free and you’ll never know how easy it really is to start pursuing your college degree until you do it.
Your college education is a mouse click away. That time you’ve been spending playing World of Warcraft online could be time spend earning an EMS management degree, or even converting your EMT or paramedic education into an RN (ADN) or BS in fire science. Go do it.
4) Get some quality life insurance.
I’m sad to say that I’ve seen a few careers cut short by unexpected death. Last year, just before Christmas, I received the sad news that my partner, whom I was expecting to work with the next morning, wasn’t coming back to work. He fell from a moving vehicle and died that previous night. He was a great father and husband and he had a lot of good living left to do.
You never know when you’re going to run your last call. Get some quality life insurance. There are a lot of companies out there willing to help you with this type of financial security. Each time someone I know dies unexpectedly, there is a question that weighs heavily on all of our minds. What can we do to relieve the financial burdens from their family? Golf tournaments and memorial bike rides only go so far. You can help answer the question yourself. It isn’t that hard.
5) Work less overtime.
While were talking about the capricious nature of life. If you’re young and working in EMS, you’re probably working too much overtime. We all do it. Especially when we’re younger. Your time is more valuable than you think.
When you’re in your 20’s and an employer asks you to trade a day of down time for time and a half, it seems like a great deal. There’s always time to ski, hike and hang out with friends later right. Your friends and the great outdoors will always be there right? The truth is, the great outdoors will be there, your friends might not…and you might not be either.
You’re only young once. Go enjoy your life. Your EMS career will be longer if you learn how to keep your work and your life in balance now. The overtime will always be there. Your work is not your life. Go live your life.
Now it’s your turn: What did I miss? What other advice do you wish you had when you were a little younger in your EMS career? What should we do to protect our EMS longevity and our relationships with our loved ones? Leave a comment and let us know.
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