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Sue Bush
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EMS: Courage And Compassion In Action

By Shawn Godfrey
12:00AM / Monday, March 12, 2007

Shawn Godfrey is a certified paramedic and operations manager for the Village Ambulance Service
And I Thought Only Toast Could Be Burnt

Welcome to "EMS:Courage and Compassion In Action," a weekly column written by Village Ambulance Services Operations Manager and paramedic Shawn Godfrey. Godfrey's columns will appear on Monday and will focus on the reality of the emergency services medical profession.

A career in Emergency Medical Service (EMS) involves the dual existence of rewarding and regrettable experiences; a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. On one hand, the EMT may be part of a richly gratifying experience, like assisting with the birth of a child. On the other hand, the EMT may experience horrifying events no human being should ever have to encounter, like witnessing the death of that same child.

The "Burnout" Factor

Because of this, stress and occupational “burnout” is an ongoing problem the EMT must battle throughout his or her career. When faced with emotional stressors that strike more rapidly than can be mentally processed, the EMT moves into a state of psychological and physical exhaustion, unable to effectively manage their patients and ultimately their own lives.

Psychologist Herbert Freudenbeger loosely defines occupational “burnout” as the reduction of vitality and the sense of being overwhelmed by other peoples' problems.

Everyday, EMTs place themselves in harm's way, from violence to disease exposure to additional unimaginable circumstances. They have freely elected to risk their lives to help others, and while they are able to determine the location in which they practice, they can not decide on the individual challenges they face from day-to-day.

If overwhelming stress or the signs of occupational “burnout” are present, this can adversely affect the EMT, subsequently causing less effective mental and physical acuity.

Heed The Need

Here are some strategies I use to curtail stress and occupational “burnout”, and maintain emotional balance:

Physical fatigue can ultimately lead to significant, crippling emotional tension. Longer shift schedules can easily disrupt the circadian rhythm, thus leaving the EMT in a perpetually fatigued state. Working less and getting enough rest allows an additional defense mechanism against stress. Be sure to tell the boss “No more shifts this week!” And bosses, heed the need for EMT sleep!

Proper Diet: Maintaining a healthy body will eventually lead to a healthier mind. Eating a balanced diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, and possibly taking daily vitamins, is extremely important. Eliminating, or at least reducing, the amount of caffeine and sugar intake is equally important. So, pass on the cheeseburger and eat a California Roll!

Exercise: Participating in any pulse-raising exercise regimen for 30 minutes, 5 days per week, not only maintains an adequate level of physical fitness, but also aids in suppressing the secretion of chemicals released in the body during stress. For you busier folk, many physical fitness professionals believe that 20 minutes, 3 days per week is adequate.

Writing/Journal: For me, documenting my emotions, during or after a stressful incident, can help with fully understanding the event. I have learned the key to maintaining a successful and therapeutic journal is allocating enough time to do it. I try to set aside 15 minutes a day to record an entry, and although this may seem impossible, the results can pay positive emotional dividends. If you maintain a daily journal, I guarantee you will see yourself growing and changing as each page progresses. A journal will force you to take time to reflect on your emotional state and, if needed, take the steps to modify your life.

Professional counseling: Most EMTs exposed to critical incident stress (CIS) recuperate in a reasonable time span; however, some require professional psychoanalysis and, quite possibly, medicinal treatment. EMTs differ from individuals in the general population because of the unique stressors they face from day-to-day. Electing to meet with a qualified counselor should neither be embarrassing nor generate feelings of inadequacy. Who knows, I may see you there!

Extracurricular activities: Time away from the job is extremely important. Activities should not include co-workers, but it is essential that family is involved. The goal of out-of-work social activities is to provide a diversion from the daily grind of EMS related duties. A variety of extracurricular activities can also provide exercise or act as support groups for many individuals. Let me guess, this very minute you are thinking about the bowling lanes, right? Okay, maybe not.

My suggestions to reduce stress and occupational “burnout” are just that, suggestions, and any advice from a professional counselor, psychologist, or other expert should be followed. One thing is for certain, if stress or occupational burnout continues without treatment, family, friends, and coworkers of the person affected may suffer.

Don’t forget to enjoy life, and by simply writing this column, I am now ready to do the same.
Your Comments
Post Comment
my girlfriend works as a paramedic-thanks for the article-makes great sense. any more tips from anybody? some days i just cant keep up with how her mind operates after working 12-16 hour shifts.
from: Jackieon: 03-02 00:00:00-2008

Good Job Shawn, Congrats on the updgrade, look forward to reading more great articles!
from: Missyon: 03-16 00:00:00-2007

I do not work in "EMS", but I can easily understand where the stressors could cause distress in someone's life. To try and combat these horrible feelings must be difficult too. Do insurance companies pay for people in "EMS" to go see someone on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. If not, shame on them!
from: Ritaon: 03-15 00:00:00-2007

Being away from the profession for 5 years, knowing what I know now, I wish I knew then, would have made managing the life of a Paramedic much more manageable. The stress we encounter daily is far more than an outsider encounters in a year. The self gratification of our jobs is something no one could ever take away from us. I am thankful everyday Shawn that you were not only a friend but incredible mentor & leader to me. You are truly the reason why I made it as far as I did. With your articles I see you are touching the lives of many more professionals & their families! Thank you!
from: Nikkion: 03-15 00:00:00-2007

Thanks for addressing a serious issue that can apply to any job. People need to be told how important exercise and diet are.
from: Seanon: 03-15 00:00:00-2007

Very informative article. Thanks Shawn!
from: Tanyaon: 03-14 00:00:00-2007

All of you in the emergency response field deserve a round of applause and a backrub!! You experience far more than those of us in the general population realize. Thanks for all you do. (I think I can be of some assistance to you, Shawn, with any stressors you might have!! heh heh heh!!) ;)
from: gold deuce girlon: 03-13 00:00:00-2007

Great insight, applicable to many in the medical profession...written with head and heart in tow.
from: Lisaon: 03-13 00:00:00-2007

Congrats on the weekly article. You are doing a great job, keep up the good work..
from: Timon: 03-13 00:00:00-2007

from: JODIon: 03-13 00:00:00-2007


from: bernieon: 03-13 00:00:00-2007

I think this information could apply to any job. I drive a bus and I have to tell you, the transportation business can wear on you too. Driving for a living is difficult.
from: Deniseon: 03-13 00:00:00-2007

Being fairly "new" to this business,5 years respectively, I can relate to what Shawn is saying! Just fininishing the clinical phase of my Intermediate, trying to balance a full time job, a family, clinical and field time, overtime, long shifts, little sleep, and occasionaly "tragic events" it's a wonder we in this career of choice get "burn-out" so fast! I agree, maintaining some kind of balance is the key to a fairly "normal" life! Without question, I am proud and honored to do what I do, as I believe most of us in the field of EMS are, I can't imagine it any other if I could just find time to sleep :)
TY Shawn for writing this article!
from: Karenon: 03-13 00:00:00-2007

I'm an EMT in the western part of the Commonwealth, and although it may not be as busy as other areas, it has the potential to weigh on your mental state. I try to use some of the stress relievers you listed, especially working-out, and found them to be helpful in curbing unwanted anxiety. Everybody, even people who don't work in EMS, please listen to this column!
from: Chris L.on: 03-13 00:00:00-2007

Great article!
from: Sarahon: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

As the wife of a paramedic, I can greatly appreciate your article. The family lives with it everyday the EMT does. Whether it is the good or the bad. There shouldn't be such a stigma attached to PTSD or other stress related illnesses. Maybe then, so many outstanding people would not leave the EMS profession. Keep up the good work and great articles. Hats off to all the EMS professionals everywhere. You are definitely a breed apart!! I can't imagine doing your job.
from: natsbratson: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

Did I read the headline right...WEEKLY!!! So you have graduated to a weekly column, from every other week....nice job :)

Always a pleasure to read what you have written...
from: Carrueon: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

I happen to like cheesburgers! Although, doing a job like yours must warrant a fair amount of physical endurance. Thanks!
from: Henryon: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

Shawn as usual gr eat colum. For most of us that work in EMS the job can be very stressful at times, so maitaining and knowing you limits can help reduce the stress. Read ya in two weeks.
from: Beekeron: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

WOW! So thats what is wrong with me?! Great artictle as always and thanks for the advice.
from: Mentalmedicon: 03-12 00:00:00-2007

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