Addressing Mental Health, Emotional Needs and Burnout in EMS

EKU Online > Addressing Mental Health, Emotional Needs and Burnout in EMS

In the emergency services community, there’s now a much greater recognition of how things such as post-traumatic stress disorder, burnout and some of the emotional trauma experienced in the field can impact EMS professionals. As the stigma of those things has been reduced in society across the board, the stigma in the emergency services industry has also decreased.  

Mental Health Awareness in the Profession

As recently as the early 2000’s, the culture in EMS was still very much to harden up, and grin and bear it.  The perception was that EMS professionals are the people who are supposed to deal with trauma so they shouldn’t let it affect them. Of course, that’s not a healthy or realistic way to think about these things. As the field starts to talk about these issues and take ownership of them, it becomes more acceptable for people to receive mental health counseling and take advantage of other resources. This should positively impact attrition, which can be high in the emergency services industry.

Eastern Kentucky University’s EMC degree programs prepare students for the mental and emotional challenges of the profession. Subjects such as effective domain, emotional intelligence and emotional equilibrium are included in the courses. There is also a course dedicated to behavioral health, which discusses the mental and emotional toll of trauma from the perspective of both the patient and the provider.

Avoiding Burnout

EMS professionals can easily experience burnout and there aren’t always opportunities to do something else if they need a break. Large agencies such as, FDNY and the LA Fire Department, have training divisions that can provide a break from working the back of an ambulance. There are also opportunities to apply for transfer into another unit. However, EMS professionals working for a smaller agency may not have that opportunity causing burnout to become a real challenge.

An important step to help avoid burnout is to maintain a healthy relationship with EMS. It’s important to have outlets that don’t have anything to do with the field. This can be more challenging than it sounds because most people in the profession are so passionate about their career. It’s easy to find themselves surrounded by nothing but a job that has really intense aspects to it. However, it is important to maintain a social circle of people who aren’t only firefighters, EMTs and police officers. Finding other hobbies and interests such as traveling, reading for pleasure, and consuming media and entertainment that isn’t just EMS all the time is also important.

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About the Author

Assistant professor, David Fifer, is the coordinator of the online paramedic degree program. This program is one of just a handful of baccalaureate paramedic programs in America. David works as a paramedic for Powell County ambulance service. He also deploys to disaster areas and national security events as a part-time employee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Disaster Medical System. In addition, he is the chair of the Kentucky Board of EMS Wilderness Medicine work group, serves on the Kentucky Board of EMS’s Education Committee, is a member of the board of directors of the Appalachian Center for Wilderness Medicine, and is the founding coordinator of the Red Star Wilderness EMS unit serving Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

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