Quite often I see some EMS news story come across the wire about how a paramedic neglected to care for a patient as they should, or delayed a response, or in extreme cases were involved in some sort of serious altercation resulting in the injury or a patient, a tech, or their partner. With every story I read, I get more and more concerned about the state of EMS, and the people who are providing care.
While none of the situations I’ve read about are excusable, I think it is our responsibility to find the root cause, or at least minimize the chance of these incidents repeating themselves. Personally, I feel that while stress is not an excuse it is a huge factor.
As a community it is our responsibility to give each and every provider not only the access to the training that they need to best provide care but we need to police our own to make sure that every provider is fit enough to provide that care.
Recently I read a story about a paramedic who was arrested for assaulting a patient. While there is no excuse for his actions I cannot help but wonder what signs and symptoms this medic showed prior to the incident occuring. I am not talking about during that shift but more in the weeks and months leading up to it. When did they start to turn? When did their attitude really start to decline? Most importantly, what did anyone do about it to try and turn this person around?
A lot of it points towards the question of “how busy is too busy?” Of course one must also ask if this is the job for them, but the EMS industry is so focused on a single mission which centers around getting people to the hospital. While a typical day on the ambulance can offer a large variety of calls, the sheer volume and type of calls can certainly create a stressful environment. As those days compound into weeks, weeks to months, and months to years, each individual day becomes a contributing factor towards what could eventually become a burnt out paramedic.
I have written about warning signs in the past, and I cannot stress the importance of recognizing those danger signs not only in ourselves but in those around us. If you see someone who is getting near that breaking point who you think might be dangerous or do something dangerous.
As prehospital clinicians we are tasked every day with caring for patients. While on that mission we must not lose sight of what is taught to each of us on the first night of EMT class: keeping ourselves safe. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you think a colleague might be in trouble, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you might need it. Doing so might not just save your patients, it could also save yourself.