Perhaps it’s not surprising that JEMS readers had a lot to say about the August feature article by Rollin J. Fairbanks, MD, MS, that discussed how to combat the longstanding issue EMS providers have with being referred to as “ambulance drivers” in the media and elsewhere (“More than Words: how we can influence the ‘ambulance driver’ media epidemic.”) Is there a solution, or will this continue to be a problem for the profession?
If you want to advance and improve our profession (and help make it a profession) then you will understand that a single, simple collective term of identity is necessary for the media to describe us and what we do. We have to make it easy for THEM to get it right. When I’ve had this conversation with media representatives (and I have), they say, “Oh, OK.”
The Canadians and Australians have figured this out. Those who work on ambulances are all paramedics, just like those who work on fire trucks are firefighters, and those who work in police cars are police officers. It has worked well enough that they have a public identity in those countries that is substantial.
How about we “real” paramedics get over it and share our “elite” (cough, cough) title with the others who work with us. We should all be paramedics. I don’t care; we can be called “BLS paramedic,” “ILS paramedic,” “ALS paramedic,” “critical care paramedic,” “tactical paramedic” or “flight paramedic,” etc., etc., ad nauseam infinitum amen. The bottom line: They’re all paramedics.
New Zealand still uses the generic term “ambulance officer” to describe those at all clinical levels, be they a technician, a paramedic or an intensive care paramedic. Technician level officers are overwhelmingly volunteers; they complete a six-month block course, perform a limited number of procedures and dispense a limited number of drugs (about 10). It’s not appropriate to call them a “paramedic,” and it’s certainly not appropriate to call an American EMT who, under the EMS Agenda for the Future, completes a course of less than 200 hours and has oxygen, aspirin and glucose, a “paramedic.” Elsewhere in the world, a paramedic must go to college for three years to earn the right to use the title. As much as I applaud Canada for its use of the titles, primary and advanced care paramedic, I’m going to have to play devil’s advocate a little here.
We are ambulance drivers. We work with fire truck drivers and police car drivers to provide first aid and a ride to the hospital. Once we arrive there, the vital sign takers, bed makers and report takers help the prescription writers and test orderers take care of the medical services consumer. After all, it’s all about the words, isn’t it?
I am an ambulance driver. I’m probably a decent EMT as well. I teach the Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC) after spending years of white knuckle driving. My primary focus when teaching a class is to impart the enormous responsibility involved in driving an emergency vehicle. In addition to being an emergency room on wheels, that truck is a billboard for your service, and potentially an instrument of destruction. If I haven’t scared the crap (spark) out of my students before the road test, I haven’t done my job. When I stand in front of or behind the ambulance during the road practical, I make it clear that my life and that of those in the truck as well as on the road is in their hands. They are proud of that accomplishment when they receive their EVOC certificate. Yet some consider being called “ambulance driver” the equivalent of a racial slur? Get over yourself.
Thank you for a great article. The term also leads to a misconception about what the ambulance is used for. I can’t tell you how many times nurses or unit secretaries have asked us as we’re leaving to take someone home because we happen to be going “his way.” When I politely decline, they usually become irritated and say things to the effect of “what good is driving an ambulance if you don’t drive people places?” We in EMS have a long way to go, but I think we all collectively appreciate your effort and your article. Thanks again.
Nice article. After almost 30 years at this, I still don’t like being called an “ambulance driver.” However, I also wish the media would use a thesaurus: The only verb they have for us is “rush.” It doesn’t matter what we do, the standard line is, “And EMS rushed the victim to the hospital.” As long as all we do is “rush,” then I guess our primary job is driving.