Pensive Paramedic Man. By Blaj Gabriel

The Real Reason for Burnout

I once worked with a guy who said that he was driving to work when he witnessed a rollover accident. The lady was ejected from the vehicle and flew nearly forty feet before hitting the pavement. He said that when the person hit the ground, she got up and began running. No doubt this was due to the fight or flight response in a last-ditch effort for the woman to survive.

However, instead of stopping to help the lady, he decided that it would be best to just drive past the accident scene since he might be late for work.

These sorts of things make me question why people get into the EMS Field to begin with. Why is it that someone who is so interested in helping people when they first start a job can end up so jaded by the end of their career???

I think a lot of this has absolutely nothing to do with patient care, but I think it has more to do with the way that people are treated and how they treat each other when they are working the job. It literally sucks the lifeblood out of the career and turns it into nothing more important than a simple job.

The politics of EMS really is the biggest problem causing burnout. Textbooks will tell you that people get burned out because they go to calls where there is a horrific accident or something happens to a child. I am not discounting any of those as those have contributed to a great number of people leaving the career, but believe me, the number one reason for burnout, especially in people who’ve been in the field for longer than 5 years, is the politics.

And what I mean by politics is the way that the whole entire system this setup to fail the EMS worker:

  • EMS vs the Emergency Room
  • Lack of Progress within the Department
  • EMS vs Fire Department Battles
  • Paperwork
  • A Failure to Have a Voice
  • 24 Hour Shift Work
  • Lack of Real Retirement or Pension
  • Minimal Pay

These are just some of the various reasons for burnout. And so it is important to note that many of these items are achievable, while others are not, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep working towards making progress on each of them. Most of the issues of Us vs Them, such as in the context of management vs field staff have to do with communication. If management is able to communicate objectives and goals, people will not feel left out. Even if line staff are unable to achieve the desired goal, it is important for them to have a voice.

Additionally, in the case of EMS vs Fire, the same is true with regard to communication. If each party meets on a regular basis and discusses operational objectives and feels like a part of the solution, there is a better chance for compromise. If the thinking is strategic, ideas an opinions should still be voiced openly. This way there are no surprises.

Surprises are after all, the enemy of compromise.

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Ruben Major
Editor in Chief at EMS Wire
Ruben began his career in Emergency Medical Services in 2000. He holds a Master's Degree in Military History and has experience as a Paramedic and EMS Supervisor in the field. He has taught CPR and First Aid Programs for several years. Ruben spent 2 years as Program Director for an EMS/Paramedic Program in the valley prior to working as Program Director for EMS University in Phoenix, Arizona. Ruben has published several articles on public safety and Emergency Medical Services in several prominent magazines and is responsible for creating the nation's first Native American APCO EMD Program. Ruben is currently seeking a Juris Doctor from Concord Law School. He has served
as CEO of EMS University since 2003 and is Editor in Chief at EMS Wire. Ruben enjoys astronomy, bicycling, hiking, other outdoor activities, and spending time with his family.

EMT-B, Mesa Community College (2000)
EMT-Paramedic, E-Med., Inc. (2002)
A.A., General Studies - Scottsdale Community College (2003)
B.A., History - Arizona State University (2003)
M.A., Military History - Norwich University (2008)
J.D., Candidate - Concord Law School (Class of 2016)

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