Welcome back to the “Life Under the Lights Bar and Grille”, your local dive bar filled with lousy food, tepid beer, bad ambiance, and great friends. Like any local Midwestern dive bar, it’s a come-as-you-are-and-sit-on-down-and-hang-with-your-buds kinda place. A conversation has broken out on the topic of “EMS Pay Sucks!! Let’s DO something about it!!” and me, your local blogger has decided to write a series of posts explaining the issues as I see them.
So, if you haven’t been here to read the last two, I suggest you go back and read them before you read this. If you don’t, well then that’s your choice. It’s a pretty informal place we have here.
Part 2: “EMS Pay Sucks!! (Part 2) – Identifying the Problem (you’re here)
The way our country compensates its EMS personnel is an abomination. It’s almost criminal, it’s inhumane, and it’s just plain wrong. Paramedics and EMTs do not deserve to live at, near, or below the poverty line simply because they chose to make a career out of helping others. We do not deserve the shame of being struggling from paycheck to paycheck. We do not deserve the hardships of trying to raise a family and continuously have to explain to them just why it is we have to work so many hours and have such little in our paychecks to show for it.
I know that EMS compensation is frankly despicable… but you don’t have to take my word for it. There is a lot written on the subject that comes from some very credible sources. Some examples:
Favorite Quote (but the read the link to get even angrier):
What they do: Paramedics respond to emergency situations and attempt to provide the necessary medical care, whether it involves transporting participants to a hospital or treating them on the scene.
Surprising salary: $27,070. Seeing as paramedics have high stress jobs that require them to be on call and ready to save lives at a moment’s notice, you might expect their mean annual salary to be higher.”
- “We Don’t Pay Them Like Heroes” – By one of MY heroes, Dr. Bryan Bledsoe – This article is about 5 years old now, but it’s sadly very much still relevant. It’s from Http://www.EMSresponder.com
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics page on Paramedics – This one’s a long read, but if you’re only skimming it you should skip to the statistics on the salaries. Here’s my favorite quote from the article, under the heading of “Related Occupations”
”Other workers in occupations that require quick and level-headed reactions to life-or-death situations are:
All those links work, by the way. Here’s a little pre-test question for you: Of those “occupations” listed above, which one is markedly the lowest paid??
I’ve been in full-time EMS for over ten years and currently work two-full time paramedic jobs. Not only do I feel the low wages, awful benefits, and long hours personally, but I also see what my coworkers go through with their lives and their families. What does one do when their calling is something so vital to the community, yet is so unappreciated financially that it hurts their families and their future?
In my travels throughout the nation I have had the chance to seek out and speak with EMS people in a lot of localities. I tend to visit odd places and I make it a point to seek out and get into conversations with interesting strangers. Luckily, all of the EMS people I know seem to fit the description of being “interesting”. I’ve heard them speak of the same problems that I’ve experienced. I’ve seen the pain and embarrassment in their eyes as they describe their love for the job and try to downplay the fact that they’re struggling financially. I’ve heard the same stories almost every time I’ve spoken with them. When they were young and new to the profession the long hours and low wages didn’t matter all that much to them… However, once they spend about five to ten years working the box they tend to experience the same struggles that I have. Spouses and Children don’t like it when the EMS person continues to work 100 hours a week to earn a paycheck that only comes close to covering the bills. They don’t like not having any disposable income. They don’t like the 24/7 demands of the job too much either. These facts rear their ugly heads when the EMS provider reaches a certain point in their life, and a career in EMS gets harder and harder to justify. Ever wonder why you don’t see many EMS professionals that have been continuously working full-time EMS for more than ten or so years? It’s for this reason. Sure there are a lot of exceptions, but I would think that the statistical clustering would bear this out. Eighteen-to-twenty year olds enter the profession, become family people around five-to-ten years later, and realize that the hours and the money they get for those hours are killing their family life… then they get other jobs, or stay in EMS and become very bitter about it.
So if I were to be asked to identify the problem using words that everyone could understand, I’d say this:
“The public is counting on the people in Emergency Medical Services to protect the lives of themselves and their loved ones. They then turn around and compensate them for this task at about the level they compensate fry cooks. They demand that there is a paramedic or EMT immediately available to them at all times to help them when the unthinkable happens, but they aren’t willing to pay them more than they do their bartender or waitress. People need advanced care immediately available to them in order to maintain the quality and presence of their lives after an emergency, and they need highly trained, experienced, and dedicated people to provide that care, but all that care seems to be worth to them is poverty-level income. What is wrong with our priorities?”
What is wrong with our priorities indeed.
I think that the above information is enough to identify that I think there is indeed a problem here. It’s an almost overwhelmingly complex problem as well. However, if it were an easy problem to fix, it would have been fixed by now. Fixing this has become mandatory for me, as it is mandatory for all of you. I’m writing this to contribute to the solutions that we’ll have to put into place, and by participating in this, you’ll be too. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting parts in this series, because I don’t think that one post will provide as many angles as I feel I need to.
One thing I do know, we’re going to act on what I put out here and on what you add to the discussion in the comments section and in your daily lives. We can no longer hope someone else will act. I ask every person who reads this to participate for our own well-being and the improvement of our profession. We’re not going to agree on everything, but “perfection is the enemy of the Good Enough”. Complete consensus is not necessary, action for our collective professional well-being is.
Coming tomorrow: EMS Pay Sucks!! Part 3 – Who or what is at fault here?