Administration and Leadership, Columns, News

An Ambulance Is Not a ‘Bus’

Those of us in EMS are professionals who train to provide our patients with the best prehospital care. But to be looked at as professionals, we need to use professional terms for our equipment, including our mode of transportation. I say enough already with using the slang term “bus” for an ambulance. Can we try to show that EMS is a profession and not just a bunch of cowboys? When did we decide that an ambulance would be called a bus and not an ambulance? Regardless of how EMS workers and their vehicles are portrayed on television, why would we give any credence to this unprofessionalism or validate it for the rest of the country?

I bring this subject up after a discussion I had with a potential student who wanted to start taking EMT classes and eventually become a paramedic. In what might have been only his second sentence, he related to me that he had always wanted to work on a bus. Once my vision and pulse stabilized, I gently and delicately explained to him that he was at the wrong school because we taught people to become EMTs and paramedics who work on ambulances, not drivers who work on buses. Although it wasn’t my intention to embarrass him, I did want to correct his grammar before he even signed up for EMT school.

I know that people in at least one part of the country call their ambulances by this slang term, and I won’t try to change them. But my goal is to make sure that we call an ambulance an ambulance in the rest of the country, even the rest of the world. I’ll repeat that: An ambulance is an ambulance. Let’s not allow slang terms to affect the way the general public looks at EMS. My fear is that the next thing will to be to call those who work on ambulances “bus drivers” and “bus riders,” or maybe even “bus medics.” Those terms don’t quite have the ring of “EMT” or “paramedic,” and I would hate to see them become popular terms for EMS workers.

Sometimes terms such as this get started as a joke, and before you know it the new term becomes adopted. In this case, calling an ambulance a bus shouldn’t be a joke and definitely shouldn’t become the standard. In this vein, we should give credit to Steve Berry, because his books and presentations demonstrate that EMS professionals do significantly more than just drive ambulances. He stresses that we provide basic and advanced prehospital medical care to sick and injured patients. Just as he stresses we’re more than “ambulance drivers,” the concept of properly naming applies in this case.

EMS transportation has evolved since the time prior to the 1970s when funeral homes provided ambulance services in what were called “meat wagons.” This was before we placed trained attendants on emergency vehicles. At this time, the service of taking sick or injured patients to the hospital was left in many cases to the only businesses with available horizontal transport funeral homes. Since then, EMS has evolved into a profession with trained prehospital providers. I would hope this evolution extends to the transportation we use, including not using slang terms for vehicles that transport patients.

Calling an ambulance a bus doesn’t make sense to me based on the high level of service provided. A bus picks up a group of people and takes them to a location by following a pre-designated route. The vehicle configuration, the level of service and the fact you can only sit — not lay down — doesn’t compare to an ambulance.

The Department of Defense uses the term “ambus” to refer to an ambulance bus, and perhaps that reference has been made in movies about World War II, the Korea War or the Vietnam War. But I hope future television shows and movies will use the proper terminology for an ambulance. When they don’t, we (EMS) need to call them on it.

I know that in some services ambulances are called “Rescues” or “Medic Units,” and I’m OK with those terms. They still indicate a public safety or medical aspect that applies to the service delivery of emergency medical systems. Even in most of these cases, the vehicles have decals with the word “ambulance” on the sides.

Although I’ve tried to give you as many reasons as I can to not call ambulances a “bus,” I’ll leave you with the two best examples. Hawkeye, the rest of the M*A*S*H 4077 crew, and Johnny and Roy on Squad 51 in “Emergency!”did not call an ambulance a bus. If the term “ambulance” was good for them, I believe it is good enough for the rest of us.