EMT or Paramedic?

 I thought it would be an easy task. I took it up after reading–one time too many–an article that discussed EMS. The article included police officers, firefighters and (hear the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard) “emergency workers,” which referred to the occupational group of which I am a part. This term reflects the media’s lack of knowledge about who we are and what we do.

Ask Around
I started by asking a couple of public information officers and journalism colleagues about the subject. They readily admitted they didn’t know the “correct” way to refer to the people who provide EMS. Cops and firefighters were easy, they said. Nobody ever complained or felt slighted by the small number of terms collectively used to identify those groups. They also said, “If you want us to call your people something particular, tell us [the media] what you’d like it to be. It’s no effort for us to use one term over another, particularly if it makes you happy in the process.”

The Mission
OK, I thought. I’m on a mission. The EMS 2.0 environment has made it easy to reach out and ask questions of the EMS community and to quickly amass data on any subject using easy and readily available tools. So I used SurveyMonkey to develop a quick survey and a variety of list servers and discussion forums to invite EMSers from around the country to express their preferences. Broad input would clearly reveal a consensus, right? Wrong.

In typical EMS fashion, we once again demonstrated that we have no consensus, even for the simple question of “What should we be called in the newspaper?” The choices, and the responses that they garnered, were varied:
“¢ EMTs: 25.4%;
“¢ Paramedics: 21.3%;
“¢ Medics: 12.5%;
“¢ Emergency workers: 8.6%;
“¢ Prehospital professionals: 6.7%;
“¢ EMS medics: 3.1%;
“¢ EMS paramedics: 2.1%;
“¢ Prehospital practitioners: 2.1%;
“¢ First responders: 1.4%;
“¢ EMS officers: 1.2%;
“¢ Ambulance drivers: 0.4%;
“¢ Ambulance officers: 0.3%.

There was also an “other” area, which garnered 11% of the total responses. Unfortunately, many of those using the “other” option used the available space to make speeches about why it was important to distinguish between EMTs and paramedics or why one color of EMS vehicle was superior to another. I also got a fair amount of direct one-to-one communication on the topic outside of the survey.

So what did we learn from this?

The Lesson
There is, unfortunately, no consensus on what we should be called in the media. Our friends to the north (in Canada, for the geographically challenged), drank the Kool-Aid and re-named all their levels of certification “blank” paramedic. What we call an EMT-B, they call a primary care paramedic. What we call an EMT-P, they call an advanced care paramedic. And they have critical care paramedics, tactical paramedics and so on. Collectively, they’re all paramedics. That makes it easy for the Canadian media.

We also fail to grasp that the distinctions don’t matter to anybody but us. The media need it simple: They don’t want to talk about law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. It doesn’t flow when written. That’s all inside baseball–apparently important to us, not important (or even understandable) to anybody else.

And some of us have got to get over ourselves and stop taking who we think we are so seriously. Do we really think a reporter will write about law enforcement officers, firefighters and “prehospital practitioners” or “prehospital professionals?” What are the cops, firefighters, nurses, doctors and engineers? Amateurs? None of those groups feel the need to describe themselves as professionals (whether they or we are is a topic for another column).

Finally, the answer doesn’t have to conform to any state legislation, national EMS document or EMS agenda document. If we want to have improved identity, we’ve got to help ourselves and make it easy for those who will carry our message. If we want to, we can change all the documents and what we call ourselves, but that will take an effort on the part of those for whom being “different from the next guy” is more important than anything else.

Having been through this process, and having had the discussions, I’ve formed an opinion. I think the Canadians beat us to the punch, but I like their way best. To the public, we’re all paramedics. We in American EMS should embrace that collective as well. Within our own little fraternities, we can label ourselves a basic paramedic, an intermediate paramedic, a real paramedic, a critical care paramedic, a SWAT paramedic, an advanced practice paramedic or a community paramedic. But outside, we need a collective that is unique, simple and understandable by those who see and hear it.

Let’s all be paramedics to the world we serve.

And the guy who’s driving the ambulance when it gets in a wreck? Let’s call him “the driver of the ambulance” and not the “ambulance driver.”

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