Tag Archives: paramedic

101 Things We Should Teach Every New EMT

Originally posted at TheEMTSpot

I do not usually steal content or original writings, but this post is too important not to share (and keep for reference).  This was originally posted, with all credit due to the author of origin, at: http://theemtspot.com/2014/03/22/101-things-we-should-teach-every-new-emt/

Though this list is focused towards emergency medical technicians, it has inferred and inherent application in many clinical and non-clinical professions.

1) You aren’t required to know everything.

2) You are required to know the foundational knowledge and skills of your job. No excuses.

3) Always be nice. It’s a force multiplier.

4) There is no greater act of trust than being handed a sick child.

5) Earn that trust.

6) Don’t ever lie to your patient. If something is awkward to say, learn to say it without lying.

7) Read Thom Dick’s, People Care. Then read it again.

8) You can fake competence with the public, but not with your coworkers.

9) Own your mistakes. We all make them, but only the best of us own them.

10) Only when you’ve learned to own your mistakes will you be able to learn from them.

11) Experience is relative.

12) Proper use of a BVM is hard and takes practice.

13) OPAs and NPAs make using a BVM less hard.

14) Master the physical assessment. Nobody in the field of medicine should be able to hold a candlestick to your physical assessment skills.

15) Keep your head about you. If you fail at that, you’ll likely fail at everything else.

16) There is a huge difference between not knowing and not caring. Care about the things you don’t yet know.

17) Train like someone’s life depends on it.

18) Drive like nobody’s life depends on it.

19) Pet the dog (even when you’re wearing gloves).

20) Have someone to talk to when the world crashes down.

21) Let human tragedy enhance your appreciation for all that you have.

22) Check the oil.

23) Protect your back. It will quite possibly be the sole determining factor in the length of your career.

24) Say please and thank you even when it’s a matter of life or death.

25) Wipe your feet at the door.

26) When you see someone who is really good at a particular skill say, “Teach me how you do that.”

27) Nobody can give you your happiness or job satisfaction; it is yours and yours alone, and you have to choose it.

28) We can’t be prepared for everything.

29) We can be prepared for almost everything.

30) Check out your rig. It’s more meaningful that just confirming that everything is still there.

31) Tell your patients that it was a pleasure to meet them and an honor to be of service.

32) Mean it.

33) Keep a journal.

34) Make it HIPAA compliant.

35) Thank the police officer that hangs out on your scene for no good reason.

36) Recognize that he or she probably wasn’t hanging out for no good reason.

37) Interview for a job at least once every year, even if you don’t want the job.

38) Iron your uniform.

39) Maintain the illusion of control. Nobody needs to know that you weren’t prepared for what just happened.

40) Apologize when you make a mistake. Do it immediately.

41) Your patient is not named honey, babe, sweetie, darling, bud, pal, man or hey. Use your patient’s name when speaking to them. Sir and Ma’am are acceptable alternatives.

42) Forgive yourself for your mistakes.

43) Forgive your coworkers for their quirks.

44) Exercise. Even when it isn’t convenient.

45) Sometimes it’s OK to eat the junk at the QuickyMart.

46) It’s not OK to always eat the junk at the QuickyMart.

47) Don’t take anything that a patient says in anger personally.

48) Don’t take anything that a patient says when they are drunk personally.

49) Don’t ever convince yourself that you can always tell the difference between a fake seizure and a real seizure.

50) Think about what you would do if this was your last shift working in EMS. Do that stuff.

51) Carry your weight.

52) Carry your patient.

53) If firefighters ever do #51 or # 52 for you, say thank you (and mean it).

54) Being punched, kicked, choked or spit on while on duty is no different than being punched, kicked, choked or spit on while you’re sitting in church or in a restaurant. Insist that law enforcement and your employer follow up with appropriate action.

55) Wave at little kids. Treat them like gold. They will remember you for a long time.

56) Hold the radio mike away from your mouth.

57) There is never any reason to yell on the radio….ever.

58) When a patient says, “I feel like I’m going to die,” believe them.

59) Very sick people rarely care which hospital you’re driving toward.

60) Very sick people rarely pack a bag before you arrive.

61) Sometimes, very sick people pack a bag and demand a specific hospital. Don’t be caught off guard.

62) Bring yourself to work. There is something that you were meant to contribute to this profession. You’ll never be able to do that if you behave like a cog.

63) Clean the pram.

64) Clean your stethoscope.

65) Your patient’s are going to lie to you. Assume they are telling you the truth until you have strong evidence of the contrary.

66) Disregard #65 if it has anything to do with your personal safety. Trust nobody in this regard.

67) If it feels like a stupid thing to do, it probably is.

68) You are always on camera.

69) If you need save-the-baby type “hero moments” to sustain you emotionally as a caregiver you will likely become frustrated and eventually leave.

70) Emergency services was never about you.

71) The sooner you figure out #69 and #70, the sooner the rest of us can get on with our jobs.

72) People always remember how you made them feel.

73) People rarely sue individuals who made them feel safe, well cared for and respected.

74) You represent our profession and the internet has a long, long memory.

75) Don’t worry too much about whether or not people respect you.

76) Worry about being really good at what you do.

77) When you first meet a patient, come to their level, look them in the eyes and smile. Make it your habit.

78) Never lie about the vital signs. If the patients vital signs change dramatically from the back of the rig to the E.R. bed, you want everyone to believe you.

79) Calm down. It’s not your emergency.

80) Stand still. There is an enormous difference between dramatic but senseless action and correct action. Stop, think and then move with a purpose.

81) Knowing when to leave a scene is a vital skill that you must constantly hone.

82) The fastest way to leave a scene should always be in your field of awareness.

83) Scene safety is not a five second consideration as you enter the scene. It takes constant vigilance.

84) Punitive medicine is never acceptable. Choose the right needle size based on the patients clinical needs.

85) Know what’s happening in your partner’s life. Ask them about it after you return from your days off.

86) If your partner has a wife and kids, know their names.

87) No matter how hard you think you worked for them, your knowledge and skills are not yours. They were gifted to you. The best way to say thank you is to give them away.

88) Learn from the bad calls. Then let them go.

89) When you’re lifting a patient and they try to reach out and grab something, say, “We’ve got you.”

90) Request the right of way.

91) Let your days off be your days off. Fight for balance.

92) Have a hobby that has nothing to do with emergency services.

93) Have a mentor who knows nothing about emergency services.

94) Wait until the call is over. Once the patient is safe at the hospital and you’re back on the road, there will be plenty of time to laugh until you can’t breathe.

95) Tell the good stories.

96) You never know when you might be running your last call. Cherish the small things.

97) You can never truly know the full extent of your influence.

98) If you’re going to tell your friends and acquaintances what you do for a living, you’ll need to embrace the idea that you’re always on duty.

99) Be willing to bend the rules to take good care of people. Don’t be afraid to defend the decisions you make on the patients behalf.

100) Service is at the heart of everything we do. The farther away from that concept you drift, the more you are likely to become lost.

101) There is no shame in wanting to make the world a better place.

See more at: http://theemtspot.com/2014/03/22/101-things-we-should-teach-every-new-emt/

Measuring EMS: Patient Satisfaction

As a paramedic, I become discouraged when so-called academic literature, like that of McLean, Maio, Spaite, and Garrison (2002), Spaite (1993), and Stiell et al. (2008), turns up describing what little impact the emergency medical services, especially advanced life support procedures, have on patients. Instead of dismissing these writings, I tend to focus within the view of my own practice and experience on how I feel that I impact the patients that I see. This exercise allows me to confront the literature in a specific and meaningful manner that might be used in the future to publish a dissenting view. This discussion gives me a lens through which to dissect the import I feel that the emergency medical services has as a public safety entity.

Public safety is typically viewed as the amalgamation of police, fire, and emergency medical services. In all three, the public seems to have the idea that we stop threats before they take hold; however, we typically respond to the aftermath, the police to investigate crimes that have already occurred, the fire department to conflagrations that have already caused damage, and emergency medical services to traumatic incidents or medical conditions that have already caused distress. There are exceptions. The police have learned to integrate crime prevention techniques, the fire department has learned to adopt a fire prevention model of service, and the emergency medical services in many areas support preventative health clinics, such as community immunization, blood pressure checks, and CPR and first aid classes. The public, I feel, has a skewed perception of each one of these departments (e.g. the police should stop crime in progress, the fire department should save their house, and emergency medical systems should save their loved one whenever called upon to do so). Any deviation from the public perception is, in their minds, a failure of the system.

I ask myself, “What is that we, as the emergency medical services, do that really matters?” For the public, it seems that the answer can be given two-fold: “save me” and “make me feel better.” El Sayed (2012) describes the manner in which both aspects, outcomes and patient satisfaction, can be measured, as both are essential. Unfortunately, El Sayed does not go into much detail regarding patient satisfaction scores, except as a means of measure. In contrast, I feel that the most benefit that we offer patients is that we alleviate suffering. From a confident, yet compassionate, bed-side manner to effective and efficient treatment modalities, emergency medical personnel can prove to be the mediator between illness or injury and definitive hospital-based care. Emergency medical providers should be knowledgeable enough about the hospital to calm and educate patients as to what to expect. Further, medical knowledge allows the provider to restore a choking person’s breathing, to stop an epileptic seizure, and to minimize a crash victim’s pain. In my opinion, these measures are just as important, if not more, to quality management as mortality and morbidity. Again, El Sayed mentions the generality of patient satisfaction; however, with the abundance of competing literature questioning the effectiveness of the emergency medical services, patient satisfaction should be expounded upon as a legitimate and important aspect of quality patient care.


El Sayed, M. J. (2012). Measuring quality in emergency medical services: a review of clinical performance indicators. Emergency Medicine International, 2012, 1-7, doi:10.1155/2012/161630

McLean, S. A., Maio, R. F., Spaite, D. W., & Garrison, H. G. (2002). Emergency medical services outcomes research: evaluating the effectiveness of prehospital care. Prehospital Emergency Care, 6(2), S52–S56. doi:10.3109/10903120209102683

Spaite, D. W. (1993). Outcome analysis in EMS systems. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 22(8), 1310–1311. doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(05)80113-1

Stiell, I. G., Nesbitt, L. P., Pickett, W., Munkley, D., Spaite, D. W., Banek, J., Field, B., … Wells, G. A., for the OPALS Study Group. (2008). The OPALS Major Trauma Study: impact of advanced life-support on survival and morbidity. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178(9), 1141-1152. doi:10.1503/cmaj.071154

Leadership: Determining the Best Approach

 The true value of leadership is empowerment, or the ability to promote those traits through the chain of command for subordinates to use to effectively make decisions that are in the spirit of the vision of the leader (Buchbinder, Shanks, & McConnell, 2012; Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; Wieck, Prydun, & Walsh, 2002). When leaders make decisions, the focus is not on the myopic view of the here and now but reflects the nature of ethics and vision promoting the endeavor (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991).

Buchbinder, Shanks, and McConnell (2012), discuss various strategies and attitudes employed to both lead and manage the health care workforce. Though each of the styles presented are effectively used in certain scenarios, many managers and ineffective leaders misuse these styles due to misplaced attitudes, trust, and motives. These styles are authoritarian, bureaucratic, participative, theory Z, laissez-faire, and situational. The authoritarian and bureaucratic styles are closely related as dictatorial and at risk for involving micromanagement; however, authoritarians tend to be motivated by their responsibilities, whereas bureaucrats tend to disregard their responsibilities. The participative and theory Z styles are more democratic and egalitarian describing the usefulness of a majority opinion or consensus before moving forward. Though these styles could result in indecision, they are best implemented when a leader has ultimate decision-making capabilities and relies on his or her subordinates for input. Laissez-faire leadership is typically characterized as the hands off approach. Laissez-faire leadership, when used correctly, relies on the specialized training or focused scope of the work of the subordinates and lends guidance only when necessary. Laissez-faire leadership, however, can provide refuge for a lazy manager. Situational leadership is the use of all or some of the styles described above depending on the specific circumstances of a given situation. For instance, providing guidance to a new employee might benefit from an authoritarian approach; however, deciding on the best approach to implementing a new process might benefit from a participative style of leadership.

In the emergency medical services, a move has been made over the last decade to separate from the authoritarian leadership of the fire service. In my opinion (due to the gross lack of research within both the fire and emergency medical services), the attitudes of the fire service leadership do not correspond well with the manner in which paramedics wish to be led. As paramedics are formally educated and expected to perform as skilled clinicians in the field, they tend to operate independently and view their supervisors more as a resource tool than as tactical or clinical decision-makers. Combination departments, or those that operate both fire and emergency medical services, would do well with developing situational leadership skills to guide both operations (Mujtaba & Sungkhawan, 2009). Though paramedics may utilize an authoritarian style of leadership during an emergency call (and, do well to follow such styles in these environments), during normal day-to-day operations, paramedics respond much better towards a laissez-faire, or indirect, style of leadership that allows for independent critical thinking (Buchbinder, Shanks, & McConnell, 2012; Freshman & Rubino, 2002). For example, during a call, I expect that when I direct my crew to perform a certain task that it is completed immediately; however, between calls when I might say that in a particular scenario a certain intervention is necessary, I expect some discussion to aid in the learning of my crews and to help develop and hone their critical thinking skills.

True leadership has its own rewards, primarily, empowering those who follow to synthesize the traits of their leaders and evolve into leaders, themselves. This, in addition to watching your own visions take root and flourish.


Buchbinder, S. B., Shanks, N. H., & McConnell, C. R. (2012). Introduction to healthcare management (Laureate Education, Inc., Custom ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Freshman, B. & Rubino, L. (2002). Emotional intelligence: a core competency for health care administrators. Health Care Manager, 20(4), 1-9. Retrieved from http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mnh&AN=12083173&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Kirkpatrick, S. A. & Locke, E. A. (1991). Leadership: Do traits matter? Academy of Management Executive, 5(2), 48-60. doi:10.5465/AME.1991.4274679

Mujtaba, B. G. & Sungkhawan, J. (2009). Situational leadership and diversity management coaching skills. Journal of Diversity Management, 4(1), 1-55. Retrieved from http://journals.cluteonline.com/

Wieck, K. L., Prydun, M., & Walsh, T. (2002). What the emerging workforce wants in its leaders. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 34(3), 283-288. doi:10.1111/j.1547-5069.2002.00283.x

Ethics and Decision Making During Critical Incidents

As a paramedic, I am faced with ethical decisions fairly frequently. As an example, I am usually the sole responding paramedic to an incident that might involve a number of seriously ill or injured patients (e.g. car accidents, fires, carbon monoxide). These incidents are challenging in that I have to choose which patient(s) will be treated at the higher level of care that I can provide versus the lower level of care that the basic life support units can provide. Typically, I base my decision merely on which patient is more ill or injured; however, many times I am faced with a number of critical patients and must decide based on ethical criteria, such as who would benefit more from my care in the long run, including the fact that adolescent and adult patients tend to fair better than elderly and infant patients (Broos, D’Hoore, Vanderschot, Rommens, & Stappaerts, 1993; Kypri, Chalmers, Langley, & Wrigh, 2000; McGwin, Melton, May, & Rue, 2000).

One of the problems with attempting to remain ethical while decisions during an emergency response is that the situational picture is almost never as clear as you need it. This is especially true as the scope and scale of the incident increases. As the magnitude of an incident grows, the incident command team become inundated with information, and it is common to be overwhelmed. We do, though, try our best to be just and fair in our determinations. We need to make our decisions based on the current information and not dwell on if they were right or wrong (Walsh et al., 2012), only if we could have approached the problem more effectively and efficiently, and this should be done only in the debriefing.


Broos, P. L. O., D’Hoore, A., Vanderschot, P., Rommens, P. M., & Stappaerts, K. H. (1993). Multiple trauma in elderly patients. Factors influencing outcome: importance of aggressive care. Injury, 24(6), 365-368. doi:10.1016/0020-1383(93)90096-O

Kypri, K., Chalmers, D. J., Langley, J. D., & Wrigh, C. S. (2000). Child injury mortality in New Zealand 1986–95. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 36(5), 431–439. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1754.2000.00559.x

McGwin, G., Melton, S. M., May, A. K., & Rue, L. W. (2000). Long-term survival in the elderly after trauma. Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, & Critical Care, 49(3), 470-476.

Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Critical Incident Response Plans

The possibility of a large-scale event threatening the health and safety of a large number of residents in Connecticut is sizable. Emergency response plans (ERPs) need to be in place to address concerns including epidemic/pandemic disease, the intentional or accidental release of a hazardous material, contamination of the food and/or water supply, and other incidents that might threaten the 3.4 million residents and could result in mass casualties. For this reason, the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH; 2005) has developed an ERP to guide the department in the event of a catastrophic threat the lives and safety of the residents of Connecticut. Additionally, the State of Connecticut has developed a State Response Framework, much like the National Response Framework, in order to allow for a modulation of an incident from a local level to a state or federal level (State of Connecticut, Department of Homeland Security, 2010; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008). The ability of an incident response to grow and shrink as an incident dictates follows the natural progression of incidents starting and ending locally, whether involving state or local responses at any time during the response (Walsh et al., 2012).

The ERP (DPH, 2005) that guides the DPH allows for representation in the state EOC while forming a modular incident management team (IMT) to staff the DPH emergency command center. The DPH IMT is designed not only to support the state EOC when activated, but also supports the various local incident commands as a public health and medical service resource. In keeping with the modular aspects of the incident command philosophies and the state and national response framework, the DPS ERP becomes a valuable resource for both initiating a response to a significant threat to the public health and safety and allows for an expert resource when other incidents of magnitude, but not necessarily public health in nature, require or benefit from the availability of public health experts.

One criticism I do have, however, is that the plan (DPH, 2005) does not address the provision of emergency medical services (EMS). For some time, there has been much confusion as to where EMS falls in the realm of emergency service functions. EMS, for many jurisdictions, is a function of the fire department and may fall under the direction of ESF #4, firefighting, especially as many EMTs and paramedics are cross-trained to fight fire. However, ambulances are not firefighting apparatus. As ambulances do transport the ill and injured, perhaps EMS falls to ESF #1, transportation. This is unlikely, though, as the primary need is not the transportation provided but the care rendered. Public health and medical services, ESF #8, seems to me to be the logical category for EMS to fall under, but EMS has an expanded role that also fits ESFs #9, #10 & #13 (search & rescue, oil & hazmat response, and public safety & security, respectively), as well as the aforementioned ESFs #1 and 4. This lack of initial categorization may allow flexibility in the deployment of EMS personnel and equipment, but it could also lead to ineffective deployment strategies resulting in a shortage of EMS in one area and overutilization in another.


State of Connecticut, Department of Homeland Security. (2010, October). State response framework. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/demhs/lib/demhs/telecommunications/ct_state_response_framework_v1_oct_10.pdf

State of Connecticut, Department of Public Health. (2005, September). Public health emergency response plan: Emergency Support Function #8 Public health and medical services. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/ctfluwatch/lib/ctfluwatch/pherp.pdf

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008, January). National response framework. Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-core.pdf

Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Emergency Operations Center Leadership

The emergency operations center (EOC) is a decentralized and secure place for senior management officials to maintain operational awareness when confronted with a large scale events or disasters (Walsh et al., 2012). Although these events or disasters may dictate the use of local incident commands at various emergencies throughout an area, the EOC allows an incident management team to direct the overall response effort while maintaining complete situational awareness. This allows for increased interoperability and the availability of resources and a centralized planning and intelligence effort (Walsh et al., 2012). During a multi-state event, a joint field office (JFO) might serve as the primary EOC to support other EOCs that have been activated.

Within the EOC, there are a number of leaders and managers responsible for ensuring an effective response strategy for the emergency that is being faced. One of these leaders is the Area Command Logistics Section Chief (or, “Log Chief”). The Log Chief is responsible for procuring and otherwise acquiring the facilities and personnel to support the response initiative. This includes “resources from off-incident locations […] providing facilities, transportation, supplies, equipment maintenance and fuel, food services, communications and information technology support, and emergency responder medical services, including innoculations” (Walsh et al., 2012, p. 60).

In response to an impending an ice storm in Austin, Texas, in 2003, the city’s EOC was activated 24 hours in advance of the storm. One of the crucial area command members activated was the Log Chief. The Log Chief ensured that redundant communications facilities were available as power outages were interferring with some established communications equipment. The Log Chief also ensured that there was food available for delivery to each small-scale incident as it developed. This was important as the available resources were deployed, there was a lack of available manpower during shift change, so feeding hungry crews was a priority. The Log Chief, on this incident, had many other important functions, but as a responder working in these adverse conditions, it was most important for me to be fed and have solid communications in the event I was to be one of the motorists sliding off the road.


Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Motivation: A Career that I Enjoy

I am lucky to work in a career that I absolutely enjoy. As a paramedic in the emergency medical services (EMS), I am called upon to help those in my community in the worst of circumstances to help them when they feel helpless. There are drawbacks, however. Many people rely on EMS for problems that even they do not view as emergent, and others just plainly abuse the system. Still, I enjoy being the one called upon to help. My primary motivations are my sense of community, my ability to reduce suffering, and my ability to raise the standard of care within the system. Maslow (1943) includes some of the earliest accepted work on motivational theory, and more contemporary work is based on the acceptance, rejection or modification of his theories, so I will focus on Maslow to begin. My needs, according to Maslow, are not as important to motivation. Need fulfillment will not motivate me to perform; however, a lack of fulfillment may prevent me from performing. This is especially true for Maslow’s lower-order needs. Maslow discusses how emergency situations can “obscure the ‘higher’ motivations [and create] a lopsided view of human capacities and human nature” (p. 375), and while my career is focused on responding to emergencies, this may hold true for me. While Maslow’s theory is not wholly accepted motivational schema (Robbins & Judge, 2010), EMS managers, and other public safety managers, would do well to understand this exception to motivational theory.

Many EMS managers, it seems, subscribe to McGregor’s (1957/2000) theory X without understanding the ramifications or the competing theory Y. There is a deep-seated belief that the workforce is lazy and will do anything possible to undermine the operation. This results in micromanagement tactics that seem to promote an unwillingness to promote the goals of the employer. McGregor highlights this and cautions that it a result of poor management technique, not a cause that is easily rectified by the chosen technique.

Other theories, such as goal-setting, equity theory, and expectancy theory, as described in Robbins and Judge (2010), are all lacking in one particular constant: there is no constant in human behavior. There are a number of ways that a single motivational factor might influence a particular person on any particular day. For any theory to always be true in every situation, it would cease to be a theory and become a law. This being said, as managers, we need to measure the importance of certain tasks and focus our efforts on communicating this importance to the workforce. It is the manner of this communication that will tend to fail or succeed, based on both the needs of the manager and the needs of the employee at the moment the message is passed.


Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. doi:10.1037/h0054346

McGregor, D. (2000). The Human Side of Enterprise (Reprinted from Adventure in thought and action: Proceedings of the fifth anniversary convocation of the School of Industrial Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1957, April 9. Cambridge, MA: MIT School of Industrial Management). Reflections, 2(1), 6-14. doi:10.1162/152417300569962

Robbins, S. P. & Judge, T. A. (2010). Motivation concepts. Essentials of organizational behavior (pp. 62-79). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Physician-assisted Suicide

I have always maintained that the best thing that I have ever done for a patient was to hold their hand as they died; however, there are few scenarios that I can posit where I would ever cause the death of another, and I would never do it in my capacity as a medical professional. In the State of Connecticut, assisting a patient in their suicide is illegal (Kasprak, 2003; Saunders & Smith, 2010). Saunders and Smith (2010) describe the use of “semantic ploys” (para. 3) in arguing for physician-assisted suicide and how the court deemed the “issue rests with the legislature, not with the court” (para 4).

Two states have laws permitting physician-assisted suicide, Oregon and Washington (Death with Dignity Act, 1997; Death with Dignity Act, 2008). The other 48 states either have laws forbidding assisted suicide, such as Connecticut, rely on common law, or have no laws permitting or forbidding the practice (Kasprak, 2003). Personally, my thoughts on the matter are clearly reflected in my opening statement. More compelling, however, is a recent discussion on the discontinuation of implanted cardiac devices in patients with a desire to “refuse continued life-sustaining therapy” (Kapa, Mueller, Hayes, & Asirvatham, 2010, p. 989). Many of the respondants to this study viewed the discontinuation of pacemakers akin to physician-assisted suicide, whereas less felt the termination of cardioverter-defibrillator therapy was an ethical issue. Oddly, lawyers indicated less problems discontinuing therapy than did physicians.

There are conditions that are so intractably painful and wrought with suffering that I would not even consider thinking less of a person suffering such a malady who took their own life. Death, for many people, is a fear beyond fear, and for a person (of considerable sound mind) to choose death as a viable alternative to such suffering, I commend their bravery and choose not to judge them negatively. No physician or other health care provider should cause the death of a person directly, but acknowledging the patient’s will to die is another matter. In lieu of providing a chemical means of ending life, a physician could, in my mind, counsel a patient on the means and methods that might be viewed as more effective and humane than other means which might result in unwanted suffering. I do believe that a person has the right to choose an alternative to a surely painful and agonizing death, regardless of the presence of depression. If a person is suffering from depression because of a terminal illness that is causing physical suffering, it is hard to imagine this person will resolve the depression before succumbing to the causal disease process. In these cases, the person has the right to choose a more dignified death. For those cases where the person is incapacitated and cannot make health care decisions, I feel that any friend or family member, or a consensus of available friends and family members, should be able to make the decision to continue or discontinue life-sustaining measures. Even if the decision is wrong for the patient, most of the time the decision is for the benefit of the family and friends and lacks medical relevance aside from resource management, though there are spiritual, emotional, and moral considerations that the next of kin may face which are no less relevant.

Personally, I grant any person permission to end my life if they see me engulfed in flame or if taken on the battlefield by an enemy known for public torture. Beyond these two circumstances, I will always choose to live so long as I have my thoughts. I have heard some people intimate that they would wish to die if they were conscious but perpetually paralyzed (i.e. locked-in syndrome); however, I am not so sure that I would want to die just for lacking the ability to communicate with others. I would want to view the world, though, perhaps by television or radio. I am too curious as to what comes next for the world. As we interfere with the dying process, it does make sense that we address the morality in which we do this. It does not seem right to have brain dead patients connected to ventilators and feeding tubes forever. It’s Orwellian.


Death with Dignity Act of 1997, O.R.S. 127.800 et seq. (1997).

Death with Dignity Act of 2009, R.C.W. 70.245 (2008).

Kapa, S., Mueller, P. S., Hayes, D. L., & Asirvatham, S. J. (2010). Perspectives on withdrawing pacemaker and implantable cardioverter-defibrillator therapies at end of life: Results of a survey of medical and legal professionals and patients. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 85(11), 981-990. doi:10.4065/mcp.2010.0431

Kasprak, J. (2003, July 9). Assisted suicide (OLR Research Report No. 2003-R-0515). Retrieved from http://www.cga.ct.gov/2003/olrdata/ph/rpt/2003-R-0515.htm

Saunders, W. L. & Smith, M. R. (2010, June 21). Assisted-suicide advocates fail in Connecticut. National Review Online. Retrieved from http://www.nationalreview.com

Codes of Ethics

Of the three ethical codes presented by Lewis and Tamparo (2007), I align myself most with the Principles of Medical Ethics: American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA promotes honesty, integrity, compassion, respect, and most importantly, responsibility. In all manners of occupation, it is virtuous to remain honest; this is paramount in medicine. Physicians, nurses, paramedics, and other health professionals may make mistakes during their career, and it is important that these mistakes be corrected as soon as possible and understood to promote practices that may minimize the same mistake from happening. Honesty leads to integrity. Integrity is a hallmark of professionalism and, in conjunction with honesty, promotes trust. Having compassion and respect for patients regardless of political, societal, economic, or other divisions allows a provider to actually care for his or her patients rather than just deal with them. As a paramedic, I try to be as trustworthy and caring as possible to each and every patient I see. Ultimately, I understand my responsibility to my community, to fellow clinicians and technicians, to patients, and to myself. I hold ultimate responsibility for my actions and inactions, and I take care to not let these adversely effect the perception others hold of me as a professional. The AMA expects this of all physicians, and as an extension of the physicians I work for, I must strive to meet the same demands.

The Hippocratic Oath is dated in its language and demands. Though the oath can be approached as symbolism, the metaphor can be lost on some. I appreciate the Hippocratic Oath for what it is (a foundation for the ethical practice of medicine), but contemporary words, meanings, and application serve me better.

I find the Code of Ethics of the American Association of Medical Assistants lacking in context, applicability, and substance when adopted for paramedicine, my chosen occupation; therefore, I do not align as well with this code as I do with the previously mentioned codes of ethics.

Codes of ethics provide baseline philosophies that serve to direct the actions of groups. By ascribing to such, the professional belonging to such a group allows the code to guide moral judgments when the answer is unclear. In medicine, this is especially true. Medical professionals deal with life and death decisions which stretch the boundaries of personal moral beliefs. By ascribing to a notion of a slightly higher directive than one’s self, the professional can remove his- or herself from the situation with more clarity and less bias.

My personal ethics are bound by a sense of personal liberty and the responsibility of that liberty. Without responsibility, there are no consequences. Without consequence, there is no learning. I like to learn so that I may be the best paramedic that I can to the next patient in my care. For me, it is always about the next patient; they deserve the best that I can offer.


Lewis, M. A. & Tamparo, C. D. (2007). Codes of ethics. In Medical law, ethics, and bioethics for the health professional (6th ed.; pp. 241-243). Philadelphia, P.A.: F. A. Davis.

Occupational Social Responsibility

According to Barendsen (2007), my profession is a caring one. I am a paramedic and I serve my community. I am also a firefighter who serves his community without compensation. It could be said that I blur the lines between my professional and personal life, but I enjoy great satisfaction doing so. I am by nature a very socially responsible person, but I extoll the virtues of taking personal responsibility. As a paramedic, I have a mantra: we combat stupidity.

As Barendsen (2007) points out, “workers in caring professions typically describe themselves as filling in or taking over a responsibility that others have abandoned” (p. 173). Everyone at some point in their lives makes stupid decisions. This is part of human learning, but some of these mistakes can unfortunately be lethal. This is where I feel that I make a difference in the lives of others. Driving too fast, smoking, eating too many fatty foods, or incidences of drunken abilities (in Texas, we had a saying that no good can from the statement: hey, hold my beer; watch this!). We all make these mistakes, thus we are all prone to stupidity from time to time. I enjoy the fact that many times I can help to allow others to learn from these mis-steps and reduce the lethality of their decision matrix.

There are times, however, that I have to get away from my occupation for my own sanity. I enjoy a number of hobbies and friends with varying interests that I can rely on to take my mind off of the worries of work. Also, attending school gives me added balance in the personal development side of life. Though attaining my degree will certainly better my professional outlook, I am seeking a degree solely for personal achievement. The prevalence of burnout in my profession is extremely high (Felton, 1998; Neale, 1991), so I make great efforts to balance and separate my personal life from my professional life. Admittedly, this is difficult at times because I am almost always on call.


Barendsen, L. (2007). Service at work. In H. Gardner (Ed.), Responsibility at work: How leading professionals act (or don’t act) responsibly (pp. 172-195). San Fancisco, CA: Josse-Bass.

Felton, J. S. (1998) Burnout as a clinical entity — its importance in health care workers. Occupational Medicine, 48(4), 237-250. doi:10.1093/occmed/48.4.237

Neale, A. V. (1991). Work stress in emergency medical technicians. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 33(9), 991-997.