Administration and Leadership, EMS Insider

The Importance of Working Together: An Interview with Rick Murray

Rick Murray, director of EMS and preparedness at the American College of Emergency Physicians, has been with ACEP for more than 20 years, and before that he was a paramedic, instructor and EMS Coordinator. During his career, Murray has helped drive the evolution of EMS on the national scene. In this interview, Murray talks about how EMS has evolved, the importance of working together and why EMS Week matters.

Photo courtesy the RedFlash Group

JEMS: You won the Paul E. Pepe Eagle Award for Outstanding Contributions to Emergency Medical Services from the Gathering of Eagles medical director group last year. Tell us why you received it and the significance for you.

Murray: Receiving the award was a complete surprise and a very humbling experience. It was a very special event in my life and it reminded me of how privileged I’ve been to work with so many talented individuals. I’ve had the great opportunity of working on important projects with so many amazing people that I have learned so much from.

I have had so many mentors and great leaders to learn from who were from all areas of EMS. I think the great diversity in EMS systems and how EMS is delivered across the country makes it one of the most challenging and exciting fields to work in. As I look back to when I was a medic on an EMS unit, I never dreamed or imagined where this career would take me.

JEMS: You’ve been at the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) since 1996 and have been a part of ACEP’s move to embrace EMS as a practice area for emergency physicians. What’s your view on how EMS has grown alongside ACEP and vice-versa?

Murray: Having been involved in EMS since the mid-1970s I’ve seen a lot of change—both in the way we deliver patient care and in the training for EMS providers. EMS continues to grow as a profession but still has a long way to go. The EMS Agenda for the Future that was released in the mid-1990s provided guidance during the past 20-plus years and I’m very excited to see where the EMS Agenda 2050 document will lead. I feel one of the most important steps to advancing the profession is in the area of education and accreditation of training programs.

Also, the need for EMS research and evidence-based medicine to validate all we do. We all need to continue to work to build a model to improve the level of professionalism, the pay and benefits, and make EMS a career where you can make a decent living without having to work 2 or 3 jobs.

Emergency medicine is somewhat unique in that it has always been a team approach to caring for the patient. The emergency physician, emergency nurse, ED technicians, and the EMS providers are all team members and there is a mutual understanding of the roles of each member and a professional respect between them. As EMS grows in its professionalism and expanded roles, the EMS medical director is right there helping to explore the path to take.

JEMS: What are some of the biggest accomplishments in your career at ACEP? 

Murray: Seeing how the National EMS Week program has grown and expanded over the years has been very rewarding. EMS Week brings together providers from all the various services, both paid and volunteer, for a common goal. This year’s EMS Week theme “Stronger Together” really says it all—we are all stronger together.

The close working relationship with all the various EMS associations and the positive outcomes of the many projects that have advanced EMS forward have been very rewarding to be a part of. Projects like the Strategy for a National EMS Culture of Safety, which addressed the many safety issues facing the everyday provision of EMS in a sometimes-unsafe environment. Seeing the recognition of EMS as a subspecialty of emergency medicine by the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) was a great accomplishment by those that worked for years to achieve it. It was a group effort by leaders at ACEP and the National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP) and has a very positive impact on all of us and will improve the professional status of EMS.

JEMS: You also worked as a paramedic and EMS instructor early in your career. What memories of that time stand out to you?

Murray: Some of my fondest memories of working as an EMS provider are of providing care and comfort to those who were sick or injured. Anyone who’s worked in EMS for very long understands that the vast majority of care we provide is not the lights and siren response to a severe trauma call or a serious medical emergency. It’s those routine calls where we’re transporting the ill grandmother who is alone and scared and just needs someone to hold her hand and help her feel reassured and safe.

Something that played a vital role in the way I saw my role in EMS came from a piece written by one of the great EMS leaders, Jim Page, back in 1979. It was the foreword to the book The Paramedics that Jim wrote, and I was lucky enough to have obtained a copy when it was published.  In the foreword, Jim describes many of the same thrills, excitement, disappointment and frustrations I had felt in my early experiences in EMS. I had that foreword framed on my wall for many years. In fact, I should get it out of my closet and hang it in my office again!  

JEMS: EMS Week is May 20-26 this year. Why is EMS Week important for the EMS profession? Why is it important to you?

Murray: EMS Week is an opportunity for every EMS service, in every community across the county, to educate their community about the vital services they provide. It’s also an opportunity to share important public education information and training with the public like CPR and Stop the Bleed training. EMS Week provides an excellent forum to inform policymakers at the local, state and national level regarding the issues facing EMS.

I have had the great privilege of directing the National EMS Week program since 1997, but it’s truly a group effort of all the national EMS organizations. ACEP is proud to be a part of EMS Week and to have been able to help facilitate a program that is by EMS, for EMS. One of the things I try to do when planning EMS Week is to remember back to when I was directing an EMS service and I would get the EMS Week Planning Guide in the mail each year. What information and resources helped me plan the EMS Week activities for our department? I feel there is even greater potential to use EMS Week for education and advocacy that is still untapped.

JEMS: You have a working ranch in Texas. How does your work in EMS intersect with tractors and horses on the ranch?

Murray: Everyone needs to have something they enjoy doing that gives them a break from the everyday routine. A change of pace and scenery every once in a while, to give yourself time to recharge. For me it’s the enjoyment and relaxation of repairing fences, working cattle or just seat time on the tractor. You might find it surprising how many ideas came to mind or problems were solved as I was mowing the pasture, with time to just stop and think. Of course, there are always the times when I need to treat a cow or horse that’s sick or injured so I guess EMS and treating “patients” never really gets out of our blood.

JEMS: What advice would you give to others in EMS who want to make an impact on the national stage?

Murray: Something I learned years ago was to approach every issue with an open mind and to question everything. Not in a critical way but to really try and understand why we do something a certain way and how can it be done differently. Would changing things make it better—or just a different path with the same end result?

I would encourage anyone who wants to make an impact to get involved in one of the professional associations. Volunteer to work on a committee or represent the association at a meeting or on a project. There’s a whole generation of young EMS professionals who have new ideas and are full of desire and energy to change things and improve EMS. All it takes is volunteering your time and then putting your heart and soul into it.