Two confident EMS professionals

13 Common Misconceptions About EMS Work

A comprehensive career overview for medical first responders

Two confident EMS professionals

Bottom of FormEMS (Emergency Medical Services) work is some of the most impactful and important work you can do. EMS professionals are valued and honored as first responders and life savers. To be an EMS worker, you need to be intelligent, organized, careful, and well-educated. When learning to be an EMT or other form of EMS worker, you will rely on your schooling and your education to ensure the safety and health of others.

There is a plethora of information out there, like tips for success as an EMT, for an EMS worker to learn and understand to be an effective lifesaver. However, there is a lot of misinformation out there that can give you the wrong idea of what EMS work is all about. To clear up some of these misconceptions, we’ve compiled a list of the most common ones from professionals with firsthand experience.

If you are not an EMS worker but have considered becoming one, check out our article on how to become an EMT to start your journey into the rewarding field of emergency medicine. Below we’ll dispel some popular myths about EMS work.

What are the Different Types of EMS Work?

There are many different types of EMS workers, ranging from emergency services to preventative education. The four main types of medical workers are Emergency Medical Responder (EMR), Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Advanced EMT (AEMT), and Paramedic.

EMRs are the first responders at the scene of an emergency. They are trained to provide basic life support services such as CPR, bleeding control, and essential airway management.

EMTs provide more advanced life support services and are trained to provide oxygen, medication administration, and more advanced airway management.

AEMTs provide more advanced medical services than EMTs, such as starting IVs and administering some medications.

Finally, paramedics provide the highest level of pre-hospital care and are trained to provide advanced life support services. They can perform advanced medical procedures such as intubation, defibrillation, and administering medications.

What are the Common Misconceptions?

Close up of CPR on a man by the pool

1. CPR looks like what you see on TV or in the movies

In TV shows and movies, CPR is often portrayed as a quick and easy procedure that results in the victim being resuscitated in a matter of seconds. However, in reality, administering CPR is a physically demanding and often exhausting procedure that requires skill and training to perform correctly.

When performing CPR, an EMT typically places their hands on the center of the person’s chest and rhythmically applies pressure to help circulate blood and oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. This process can be physically strenuous and may require the EMT to perform chest compressions for several minutes or longer.

Additionally, CPR is not always successful in reviving someone who has experienced cardiac arrest. Even with timely and effective CPR, there is a significant risk that the person may not recover. It is important to note that CPR is just one component of the resuscitation process, and other interventions, such as defibrillation and medication, may also be necessary.


Helicopter and several EMS vehicles

2. Helicopters are always necessary

While helicopters can provide rapid transport for critically ill or injured patients to specialized medical centers, they are not always the most appropriate or practical transport. In many cases, ambulances are sufficient for transporting patients to the nearest hospital or medical facility.

Helicopters are typically used when the patient is in a remote or rugged location, such as a wilderness area or mountain range, or when the patient requires specialized medical care unavailable at the nearest hospital. Helicopters can also help transport patients who need urgent medical attention and are located far from the nearest hospital.

However, helicopters are expensive to operate and maintain. Their use must be carefully evaluated based on the patient’s needs, the availability of other transport options, and the cost and feasibility of using a helicopter.


Male EMS professional using a portable radio

3. Paramedics are “ambulance drivers”

While ambulance driving is an essential component of EMS work, paramedics are highly trained medical professionals responsible for providing advanced medical care to patients in emergencies. In addition to driving the ambulance, paramedics are trained to perform a wide range of medical procedures, such as administering medication, performing advanced airway management, and delivering advanced cardiac life support.

Paramedics receive extensive education and training that goes far beyond basic ambulance driving skills. In most cases, paramedics must complete a two-year associate degree program and pass a rigorous certification exam before they are allowed to work as a paramedic.


Ambulance on a highway

4. EMS workers can use sirens whenever they’d like

The use of sirens and emergency lights on an ambulance is regulated by state and local laws and EMS protocols. EMS workers can only use sirens and lights when responding to emergencies or transporting critically ill or injured patients. In some cases, the use of sirens and lights may be limited to certain times of the day or specific areas, such as residential neighborhoods or hospital zones.

EMS workers are trained to use sirens and lights safely and responsibly, considering the needs of other drivers, pedestrians, and the patient being transported. The use of sirens and lights is also coordinated with local law enforcement and emergency management officials to ensure that traffic is safely routed, and intersections are cleared.


Medical professional examining a cat

5. All medics can treat injured pets

While some EMS workers may have experience treating animals, such as those who have worked in veterinary medicine or have completed additional animal rescue training, it is not a standard part of EMS education or training.

EMS workers are generally trained to provide emergency medical care to human patients. If a pet or other animal is injured or in need of medical attention, it is generally the responsibility of the pet owner to seek veterinary care. However, some EMS agencies and fire departments have developed animal rescue programs and trained their personnel to assist with animal emergencies.


Close up of firefighters using a hose

6. Paramedics can fight fires or criminals

While paramedics may work closely with firefighters and law enforcement officers in emergency situations, their primary focus is providing medical care to patients. They are not trained or equipped to handle fire suppression or law enforcement activities.

Firefighters are trained to fight fires and perform rescue operations, while law enforcement officers are responsible for maintaining public safety and enforcing the law. EMS workers and paramedics work with these professionals to provide medical care and transport for injured or ill patients.


EMS professionals with a woman on a stretcher

7. If EMS workers arrive in under nine minutes, resuscitation is all but ensured

While response time is an essential factor in the success of resuscitation efforts, many other factors can affect patient outcomes, such as the patient’s underlying health condition, the type and severity of the medical emergency, and the quality of resuscitation efforts.

EMS workers are trained to provide high-quality, evidence-based resuscitation, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), defibrillation, and advanced airway management. However, even with timely and effective interventions, there is no guarantee that resuscitation will be successful.

Not every medical emergency is unique, and patient outcomes can vary widely depending on a variety of factors. While timely EMS response is vital in improving patient outcomes, it is only one part of the equation.


Person performing CPR on a man

8. Having your own AED at home will save lives

While having an automated external defibrillator (AED) at home can potentially save lives in certain situations, you also need to be aware of its limitations and the importance of proper training and maintenance.

An AED is a portable device that can deliver an electrical shock to a person’s heart to restore normal heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest. AEDs are commonly found in public places like airports, sports stadiums, and shopping malls.

While having an AED at home can be beneficial in certain situations, it is important to understand that AEDs are not a substitute for timely access to professional medical care. In many cases, sudden cardiac arrest is caused by underlying medical conditions that require ongoing medical management.

It’s worth noting that AEDs require regular maintenance, including periodic replacement of batteries and electrode pads, to ensure they function correctly when needed.


Team of EMS professionals moving a patient

9. Paramedics are not healthcare professionals

Paramedics are absolutely healthcare professionals. Paramedics are highly trained medical professionals who provide emergency medical care to patients in various settings, including in the field, ambulances, and hospital emergency departments. They are trained to deliver a range of advanced medical procedures and interventions, such as administering medications, performing advanced airway management, and providing advanced life support measures in critical situations.

In addition to their medical training, paramedics are also trained in communication and decision-making skills, patient assessment, and management. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians and nurses, to coordinate patient care.

Paramedics are an essential part of the healthcare system and play a critical role in providing timely and effective emergency medical care to patients in need. With all that Paramedics and EMS professionals do, they deserve just as much recognition as other healthcare professionals.


EMS professionals assisting a woman

10. EMS work is the same as being a Paramedic

Not exactly. EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is a broader term encompassing a range of healthcare professionals and services that provide emergency medical care to patients outside of a hospital setting. EMS providers can include Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Advanced EMTs (AEMTs), Paramedics, and other healthcare professionals.

On the other hand, paramedics are highly trained healthcare professionals who provide advanced life support care to patients. They have more advanced training and education than EMTs and AEMTs. They are typically able to perform more invasive procedures, such as administering medications, performing intubations, and providing advanced airway management.

So, while being a paramedic is one type of EMS work, not all EMS work is the same as being a paramedic. EMS work can involve a range of responsibilities and levels of training, depending on the specific role and qualifications of the provider.


Close up of an EMS professional with a stethoscope

11. EMS work is easy

EMS work can be challenging and demanding, both physically and mentally. EMS providers work in high-pressure situations, often dealing with life-or-death emergencies, and may be exposed to a range of physical and emotional stressors.

In addition to the demands of the job itself, EMS providers may also have to work long hours, deal with unpredictable schedules, and work in a range of environments and weather conditions. They may also have to cope with the emotional toll of witnessing traumatic events and may need to provide emotional support to patients and their families.

While EMS work can be difficult, it can also be incredibly rewarding. EMS providers play a critical role in helping save lives and providing essential medical care to those in need. They may also have the opportunity to work in various settings and with people from all walks of life, making the job varied and interesting. Ultimately, whether or not EMS work is easy will depend on the individual’s skills, training, and personal experiences.


Female EMS professional using a tablet

12. EMS work is a low-paying job

While it is true that some EMS workers may earn lower salaries than other healthcare professionals, EMS work is not inherently a low-paying job. Pay can vary from state to state and with different levels of experience.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average yearly pay for an EMT was about $37,000. However, there is a much higher upper limit. The top 10% of EMTs can earn more than about $48,000 a year.

With time and experience, an EMT can become a big earner. But paramedics can earn even more! The average salary* for paramedics was about $50,000, while  the top 10% of paramedics can earn more than $74,000 per year.


Medical workers standing beside an ambulance

13. EMS professionals only deal with emergencies

While responding to emergencies is a significant part of EMS work, EMS workers also provide non-emergency medical services.

In addition to responding to 911 calls, EMS workers may provide medical transportation for patients who require assistance getting to and from medical appointments. They may also provide medical support at community events and public gatherings, such as concerts and sporting events.

Moreover, EMS workers may also provide non-emergency services in the community, such as health screenings, vaccinations, and education on injury prevention and safety.

EMS workers play a critical role in the healthcare system and are trained to provide a wide range of medical services. While emergency response is a significant aspect of their work, EMS workers also provide a variety of other services that contribute to the health and well-being of the community.

Start Your Career as an EMT

EMS work is a demanding yet fulfilling career that takes proper intelligence and education to perform well. Being aware of these misconceptions can help you sharpen your skills as an EMT or other EMS worker. Good EMS workers are always in need to keep our community healthy and strong. Keep in mind the work that goes into becoming an EMT, and show support for your local healthcare workers.

The NREMT Exam – To find a testing location near you (and to register), visit the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians’ website.

Training – If you want to become an EMT in Arizona, you’re eligible for the Unitek EMT Boot Camp.

(For those outside Arizona interested in becoming an EMT, simply Google “EMT course near me” to find a program in your area.)