The Next Generation

Today’s new EMS clinicians open up about why they entered the profession, what they’ve learned so far and how they’re preparing for tomorrow

We interviewed new EMS clinicians (some in their first year on the job) from across the country to explore what drew them to the profession. We asked what they’ve found surprising and what they love—and don’t love—about what they do. Here’s what they had to say about the career they’ve chosen in EMS.


Age 34

McCormick Ambulance 

Los Angeles, California

Years in EMS: 1


Q: Why did you become an EMT?

A: I’m a bit of a wandering soul. I’ve spent the better part of half of my life studying music (classical vocal and opera). I’ve had multiple careers in different avenues: I’ve been a paid performer, server, voice teacher, classroom teacher, ESL instructor in the Peace Corps in Mongolia and a summer music pro-gram manager—among other careers. After serving as a de facto medic/translator in a summer music program that I used to work for in Italy, and [with] a growing interest in public health and first aid after serving in the Peace Corps, I decided to try out EMS and see if it would be a good fit.

Q: What were you doing before you became certified in EMS?

A: I was teaching a high school class in opera as well as private voice lessons.

Q: What were the biggest challenges of the EMT course?

A: The volume of information you’re initially required to absorb can be a challenge. The real challenge for me was understanding how to transition the information I was learning in the classroom to actual usage in the field.

Q: What has surprised you about EMS so far?

A: The people involved in EMS have been the most surprising. We come from all walks of life. You get a real cross-section of society in both the patients and the care providers.

Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in EMS?

A: I work a 911 ambulance in the L.A. area. Honestly, every day is interesting. We get trauma calls all the time. I’ve worked full arrests on boats and traversed overflowing ravines for patient extrication. I’ve seen some very serious calls. But, at the moment, what sticks out as the most memorable is keeping a patient calm by singing Christmas carols with him while we transported him to the hospital. He was on the autism spectrum and was triggered into a violent episode from loud noises while riding a bus. It might not be the most glamorous call; yet, being able to combine my past expertise in music with patient care really made my day.

Q: Do you know where you want your EMS career to take you?

A: I’m currently enrolled in prerequisites for nursing school and plan to apply for entry-level masters’ programs. I’m planning a career as a nurse practitioner. I might do travel nursing for a while. L.A. County Fire just started a pilot program for field responding nurse practitioners and that interests me greatly.

Q: What does your family think about you pursuing EMS?

A: The response I’ve normally received is that they’re not at all surprised and that they think it suits my personality and abilities perfectly.

Q: What are your biggest fears about working in EMS?

A: I think all of us are aware of the risks to which we expose ourselves on a daily basis. That said, we’re still allowed to be wary of infectious diseases, workplace violence, etc. EMTs are infamously underpaid. During a staging post for a possible riot, we were handed bulletproof vests. I remember thinking we’re probably the lowest paid professionals to ever don bulletproof vests and wondering if it was worth it. But my biggest fear would be the toll that this job takes on us, not just physically, but mentally. It’s something we won’t really be able to quantify until we’re experiencing the effects of it all, after the fact.

Q: What in your past experiences will help you in your EMS career?

A: There’s a huge element of performance involved in patient care and bedside manner. Being able to connect with your patients and to help them understand what you’re doing to care for them is an element of teaching that surely comes in handy, as well.

Q: What’s one interesting thing about you that people should know?

A: I performed Mongolian throat singing and folk songs on the Mongolian National Opera stage for the U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia and members of the Mongolian consulate during my swearing in ceremony as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Q: What’s the best part of EMS so far?

A: The people. Don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of unsavory characters in all aspects of the job. For every one of those, I find a gem of a person trying to do right by themselves, their family and their com-munity. The worst? Unsurprisingly, it’s the pay.

Dysart Ambulance Service
Dysart, Iowa
Years in EMS: 1


Q: What’s your full-time job and how did you be-come a volunteer EMT?

Erica: My husband, Myles, and I became volunteers at the same time when we came across an EMT night class being offered in our town. I work in the medical field, but my job is more behind-the-scenes. I’m a medical laboratory scientist and I analyze blood and bodily fluids to help providers understand what’s going on internally with their patients. While I love my job, I still enjoy patient interaction as a volunteer EMT. Being an EMT makes it possible for me to see patients and apply my knowledge on diagnostic medicine.

Q: What have you done in the past to prepare you?

Erica: My past experience in the military and my current full-time job help me. Having a medical background was very beneficial going through the EMT course, and having combat lifesaver training in the military helped prepare me for trauma cases.

Myles: I had the opportunity to take a course with the Iowa Army National Guard called Combat Lifesaver. It focuses on field expedient treatment of trauma and associated wounds and basic lifesaving skills. I was able to look back at that training while taking the EMT course.

Q: What has surprised you about the EMS field?

Erica: It’s surprising how friendly and grateful the residents in my town are to the service. Even on some of these people’s worst days, they are still super kind. I say this because I’ve worked in a number of emergency departments where that is not the case.

Myles: The amount of training involved and the amount of continuing education that is required. Ambulances are much more than glorified taxis to take you to the hospital. The EMTs and paramedics that staff them are highly trained and capable of some pretty extraordinary things in the back of a moving box. On one of our calls, we had to perform CPR on a patient. I had been trained in CPR for quite a while but nothing prepares you for what it is like on an actual human. It was a very surreal experience.

Q: What do you like the most and least about EMS?

Erica: The best part of EMS is helping people, whether it is medical interventions or just giving our patients someone to talk to and listening. The most interesting thing I’ve done so far is working motor vehicle related traumas. I love working in fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled situations. I hope to stay volunteering for as long as I live in Dysart. Also, having this opportunity fueled my idea for potentially going to [physician assistant] school in the future. The worst part of EMS is witnessing the terror and heartbreak of family members over their loved ones when given bad news. My biggest fear about being an EMT in a small town is having to respond to a bad call for someone close to me.

Myles: Being in EMS, you occasionally get to see people when they’re at one of the high points of their life, like transporting a pregnant woman in labor to the hospital for the birth of her child. On the flip side—and much more often—you see people when they’re having one of the worst days of their lives, whether it be from illness or injury. Being in such a small town, many of the times you get paged out, you’re responding to help people you know personally. It can be scary knowing that, at some point, you may be responding to a friend or loved one’s emergency.

Q: What were the biggest challenges of the EMT course?

Erica: The biggest challenge of the EMT course was the hands-on practical! I was so nervous going into that, making sure I hit every single point!

Myles: For me, one of the biggest challenges was balancing my time between my job and the class. I had some late nights and early mornings. As far as the course material, I didn’t come from any kind of medical background so everything that I was learning was new for me. I had very little past experiences or knowledge to connect the new material to.

Age 26
Prince George’s Fire Department
Prince George’s County, Maryland
Years in EMS: 5


Q: Where do you live and what career were you pursuing before you became certified in EMS?

A: I live in Washington, D.C., and I was doing software development before I joined the Prince George’s Fire Department.

Q: What’s something about your personality that helps you to be good at your job? 

A: I realize that I enjoy dealing with people. EMS is all about making people feel comfortable and safe.

Q: What’s one thing that has surprised you about EMS in the past five years?

A: I’ve been surprised by the number of people who use the 911 system on a daily basis.

Q: Do you have any idea where you want your EMS career to take you?

A: I would like to be a captain in the Fire Department by the end of my career.

Q: How does your family feel about your EMS career?

A: My family is happy that I’m doing what I love.

Age 29
Fort Worth Fire Department
Fort Worth, Texas Years in EMS: 2 years


Q: Why did you become a paramedic and what was the training like?

A: I wanted a career that tangibly helped people. The biggest challenge with the training was sacrificing time with my family. Paramedic school required a lot of work outside of the classroom, and I had to say no to a lot of things that I wanted to do. 

Q: What has surprised you about the job so far?

A: I am most surprised by how many people use EMS and the [emergency room] as a primary health care service. I was unaware that I would be educating patients to help their overall condition.

Q: Do you know where you want your EMS career to take you?

A: I have no intent on leaving my department. At this point, I want to be the best I can be in all aspects of my job. Right now, my focus is on delivering the best care to each individual patient.

Q: What are your biggest concerns about working in EMS and what are some negative parts about the job?

A: My biggest fear is getting exposed to a disease that drastically alters my life. I also don’t want to bring a disease home to my family. The worst part of the job is seeing a grieving family during a loss of life.

Q: What’s the best part about EMS?

A: The best part of EMS is helping someone that is sick or hurt get back to living a good life again. I get to help people on what is possibly the worst day of their life and help fix the problem.

Age 31
Regional Transport Services, Mission Hospital Asheville, NC
Years in EMS: Less than 1


Q: Why did you become an EMT and what did you do before that?

A: I became an EMT because I want to make a difference in people’s lives, even if it’s just for five or 10 minutes. You never know the impact you can make in such a short amount of time. Before becoming an EMT, I worked as a patient care technician on the pediatric floor for Mission Hospital.

Q: Do you know where you want your career to take you?

A: Whew, that’s a deep question. I feel like I am impacted by a different situation every day. My heart will always lead me to help those in a time of crisis. Wherever the Lord sees fit for me to make a difference is where I will be.

Q: What is your biggest fear about working in EMS?

A: The failure of not being good enough hits close to home.

Q: What do you like about being in EMS?

A: Every day in EMS is interesting; you never have the same day twice. Hands down the best thing is just being there for others. You don’t have to perform some life-saving miracle to make a huge impact in someone’s life. A smile, a listening ear and some reassurance might just be all the miracle someone needs that day.