Straight, No Chaser: Saluting Paramedics and other Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)

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This really is pretty simple. I really love working with EMTs (emergency medical technicians; you call them paramedics, although there are different types). I’ve been privileged to serve as Medical Director for 16 different EMT units over my career, and I’ve always been proud and honored to be a part of their team.

Here’s the thing. Emergency Physicians fancy ourselves as the cowboys of medicine; we get to handle whatever walks through the doors of the ER. Now that’s pretty cool, and it’s a hell of a roller coaster ride, but I’d dare say EMTs have it almost as good and possibly better. If I get to be a cowboy, EMTs are like astronauts. They travel into sites unknown and explore situations usually unseen. And they get save lives, deliver babies and meet people from every walk of life.

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I’ve been taking ambulance runs with EMTs since I was a medical student. They’ve taken me into the old project buildings in Chicago, alleys and abandoned buildings. We’ve carried 400 pound individuals down flights of stairs when elevators weren’t working in ghettos. We’ve traveled at relatively high speeds during snowstorms and in the midst of tornadoes. Thinking about how exciting that was for me, I realize these ladies and gents get to do this all the time. Plus, these guys and gals are probably the best cooks you know and get to spend a lot of their days working out!

On an especially serious note, EMTs are about the brightest-eyed professionals in health care. They always are interested and excited. They’ve always wanted to learn and be better. They perform procedures in the field that would be the envy of anyone in the hospital setting. I applaud the professionalism and assertiveness with which they meet the challenges of life, death and the millions of patients who treat them like an especially expensive taxi service. (PSA: please don’t do this. When you take an ambulance out of circulation, you place others at risk who really may need an available ambulance.)

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So during this EMS week, if you know a paramedic or other EMT, please take the time to say thank you and perhaps extend some gesture of kindness. These folks really are heroes. Even if you don’t know one, the least you can do is get out of the way when you hear the sirens…

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