Becoming Comfortable

Becoming Comfortable

May 18, 2015

With EMS week upon us, I wanted to talk about what this journey through EMS has meant to me, and what it has taken to take some of the steps that I have in my career and there is no better place to start than that first leap.

One of the most common questions that I have been asked by new and prospective EMTs and paramedics is “when will I feel comfortable?”  It is one of the most difficult questions to answer and one that I really do not know the answer to.  Truth be told, it took me a lot longer than I ever expected to be comfortable in my skin as a paramedic.

When I started medic school I felt confident as an EMT.  I had a strong grasp on what my role was at a scene, and felt that I could effectively perform any of the skills in my toolkit when called upon to do so.  Medic school proved to be a struggle at times, more because of my lack of good study habits but I got through and added that “PARAMEDIC” rocker to my EMT patch.  Once I hit the street as a medic though I felt very overwhelmed.

I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot at Springfield College with my door open dry heaving the morning before my first 7:30am shift as a medic.  I was terrified.  Most of it stemmed from the fact that I did not want to disappoint anybody, especially myself.  That first shift went well though, and the first group of shifts did but for the most part, I can fully admit that I was scared.  When it comes to type of air that a medic must carry with themselves on a scene, I tell most brand new medics that they need to be “like a duck.”  Under the water, you might be paddling your little duck behind off but outwardly, above the water line, you need to be cool, calm and collected and just quack your way along with no one any the wiser.  I was a terrible duck.

This overall sentiment went on for about the first year or so that I was cleared for the field.  I worked a lot, and got to practice a lot but I showed up to work scared, especially when put alone with an EMT.  While I was feeling more and more comfortable with my new paramedic toolkit I liked having that safety blanket near by in case I needed anything.  Once I got through that first year I started to feel better about myself.  My fear at work was replaced partially by confidence, and the rest of the way by a touch of anger.  It seems like its easy to get a little burnt and angry when you run the volume and level of acuity that we did in Springfield.  My day seemed to be made up more of providing an overpriced taxi service to some of the most unfriendly people that I have ever encountered than people who actually needed a paramedic’s care.

Immersing myself in that sort of environment 60+ hours a week was not always the healthiest thing to do, but I was living outside my means and needed to do so to maintain the lifestyle that I was trying to live.  My ability to maintain a healthy balance of life vs work was difficult.  The two seemed to frequently cross over, and I found the lines to be blurred.  When I first started actually working and collecting a paycheck for riding on the ambulance, I would say to myself, “I am actually getting paid to do this!”  Three years into it, I found myself saying, “Well, here I go again.”

All in all, it took me about three years to get what I now consider to be a full handle on myself as a medic.  A year of fear, two years of understanding the life and work balance that I needed to achieve.  I have a lot of good friends to thank for that.  I was not always the easiest person to work with and I fully admit that.  I was not as strong a medic as I am now, almost fifteen years into my career, and while I know experience teaches us a lot about this field, life as a medic was not always easy for me.

Despite all of this though, I look back over my career and smile.  Do not take this as a tragic story about the initial struggles of a new paramedic.  Don’t look at it as a cautionary tale about getting into the field and actually making a decision to commit and make it your career because despite the outward appearance, this post is not intended to be either of those things.  I love being a paramedic.  It is what I wanted to do from the age of 15 when I first set foot on Ambulance 219 and took my first call that early morning in April of 1993.  Like the great Jonathan Hall said, “your career is more like a sine wave than a bell curve.”  We will all have our share of ups and downs.  Embrace them.  Each and every one of them.  Remember that not everybody who does this job is comfortable with it from day one, or even year one.   It is far more to love what you do than it is to be immediately good at it.  A love for a profession will push you forward in the direction that you need to go.  Embrace your love for EMS, embrace your love for helping your fellow man and push forward, despite what obstacles you might encounter along the way.

Happy EMS week, everyone!

  • Gary

    Scott,
    I’m definitely going to borrow the duck analogy! When I’ve been asked the same question I tell the students that confidence will come and go in waves. I think after the initial fear of being a new paramedic, confidence level gradually grows however there will be a call or period of calls that knocks the confidence back down. This is not necessary due to a mistake but rather dealing with a type of patient or presentation you have never seen before making you feel “I don’t know as much as I thought I did”. Eventually it does subside, or maybe the cycle repeats several more time. In the end I think it’s up to the individual provider to either own up to their weakness and seek ways to improve otherwise they should invest in a lot of underwear and socks!

    Happy EMS week to you and everyone else!