Elsewhere on social media this week I have seen a call to “protest EMS Week 2023”. The logic suggests that the free meals and cheap trinkets are far less than the long-suffering and under-paid providers deserve. While I whole-heartedly agree, “we” have made EMS Week what it has become, not what it was intended.
The EMS Week 2022 proclamation reads “I call upon public officials, doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMS providers, and all the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities to honor our brave EMS workers and to pay tribute to the EMS providers who lost their lives in the line of duty.” I read nothing in there about free drink coosies and pizza. While there is nothing wrong with a “company BBQ” to get together outside the ambulance, we are wasting the opportunity we were given as a national spotlight. It feels good to bask in that glow for the moment, but we could be grabbing the microphone while we’re there.
EMS Week was designed with a daily focus on service, not just for accolades to passive providers, but as a chance at the microphone to tell our individual stories. Unlike our brothers and sisters in law enforcement and fire protection, we are generally not considered “essential” because the public has not yet seen our value. We can’t point the finger at them and say they need to wake up and look harder, it is up to us to proclaim and demonstrate that value. That doesn’t happen when our mouths are full of free food, only when we provide the free “food” of empowerment to others. So, why aren’t we teaching free classes that build community awareness?
Face it, we suck at coordinated political action. We can’t agree on educational requirements, collective bargaining, titles, or even whether you can provide good care from a red truck. Most of us still honor personal anecdote over research and blame volunteers or federal reimbursement for low pay. We all have different ideas to solve the mess. However, we do share a common power and it is in the personal interactions that we are best at demonstrating our medical knowledge and concern for the welfare of individuals. The same individuals that we are asking to fund us with their taxes.
We could be using this week in service above and beyond instead of using it as a chance to rest. Empowering the public is the best way to gain trust. Show what we know and ask for help in improving outcomes. We need their help to keep a cardiac arrest patient viable until we can arrive and resuscitate them. Make them a part of the team, not outsiders. Learn to install a car seat and help new parents prevent an accident. Build the relationships that use our strength when people are in distress and they will see us as a necessary component of the community, not an add-on.
Many of the pieces of the puzzle to fix EMS are beyond our immediate personal control, but if we actively make the community a partner, they will support us and even demand change on our behalf. Don’t protest the monster we created, tame it for our better purposes.