I’m a training officer with my ambulance service and when I start working with a new graduate paramedic I make a point of asking them a question early on. It’s the same question I was asked in the interview process when I first applied for this job, and at the time I thought it required a stock interview answer. Over time though I’ve come to realise that it was far more important than I had initially given it credit for and has the power to shape an entire career as a paramedic.
What is the question?
Why do you want to do this job?
It sounds a little facile, because the automatic answer that people know they’re expected to give is “because I want to help people”. And they should, because it’s the correct answer. It’s certainly the answer I gave.
So what are the incorrect answers? Pretty much anything else, in my view. ”I want to wear a uniform”. “I want to drive fast”. “I like the gory stuff”. ”I want to be a hero”. These may all be amongst your list of motivations, but they certainly shouldn’t be at the top. Why? Because going into the job with a benevolent and helpful attitude helps you, the student paramedic.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that starting work as a paramedic with this answer in the forefront of your mind is probably the single best protective mechanism that you have. If you genuinely want to help people, you’ll be much better able to cope with night shifts, trauma, violent patients, angry relatives and the depressing grind of nursing homes. Having an intrinsic motivation like that protects you from all the horror of the job because you know “helping” people is its own reward. It sounds saccharine but it is true.
There are many paramedics out there who spend a lot of time complaining because they haven’t done much management on their patient – no IVs, no drugs, no anatomically inadvisable airway manoeuvres. These paramedics can get bitter because they feel that if they don’t use their procedural skills then their time has been wasted. But who can argue that picking someone’s grandmother up off the floor is wasted time? It’s not glamorous but it’s worthwhile. And better than that, it keeps your head screwed on straight.
Chasing the glamorous work will leave you simultaneously frustrated and burned out and I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen a bit of it going around amongst the newer recruits. Trust me, the big jobs will come of their own accord, no need to rush it. Better to take your time, treat your patient the way you know you should, and make a difference in their life.
If you’re a paramedic student and, like many, you’re studying because you couldn’t think of anything else after school, that’s ok. But start thinking hard, right now, about why you want this job. If you lack commitment and motivation you’re going to have a bad time. And worse than that, you’re going to be a bad paramedic. The community (and your training officer) deserve better.
Advanced Life Support Paramedic and Clinical Instructor.