Male EMS professional using a portable radio

15 Tips for Success as an EMT

What every EMT should know

Male EMS professional using a portable radio

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are highly trained and dedicated healthcare professionals who play a critical role in saving lives and providing compassionate care to those in need. EMTs are often the first responders on the scene of medical emergencies, and their quick thinking, expertise, and tireless efforts make them true heroes in healthcare.

Being an effective EMT requires much more than just medical training. Yes, EMTs must be well-versed in emergency care. But they must also be adept at quickly evaluating patients’ needs and making critical decisions in high-stress situations. They must stay up to date with the latest medical advancements and best practices in emergency care. EMTs must also possess a unique blend of compassion, empathy, and professionalism and be effective communicators. Their unwavering dedication to continuous improvement and passion for helping others make them indispensable to the healthcare system.

This article offers valuable tips and advice from experienced EMS professionals for succeeding as an EMT. For more information on training and preparation for an EMT career, read our article: “How to Become an EMT.”

Key Tips for EMT Success

As an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), your role is crucial in providing medical care in emergency situations. Here are 15 tips for success as an EMT:

1. Organize your equipment

You don’t want to learn this basic idea the hard way. Your most critical equipment should always be grouped, organized, and with you. Mistakes happen, but having a routine can help reduce the chance of mistakes, such as leaving behind valuable equipment. Furthermore, keep your gear simple by not adding items you’ll most likely never use. The essential kit is very versatile. There is little you can’t accomplish with a pen, scissors, and a flashlight.

After paring down your equipment to just the essentials, you should find a simple way to categorize and transport the items. Use a bag or case designed for medical equipment, color-code items, and regularly check and restock items as you use them. Put more commonly used items in the locations that will make them easiest to find and access. Then stick to your system and build muscle memory. These strategies will ensure that you are always prepared to provide the best possible care for your patients.

2. Master your equipment

Yes, simplifying your equipment, organizing your bag, and familiarizing yourself with your routine are all useful. But the best tip regarding your equipment is: learn to master it. Attend training sessions, read manuals, role-play scenarios, and seek feedback from experienced EMTs. The better you know how to use the tools you are provided, the more effective you can be with them.

Furthermore, it is essential that you learn how to care for your equipment. A good EMT can solve problems with their equipment, but a great EMT keeps their equipment in good condition, so they never have to solve any problems. Always be sure to learn from your mistakes and avoid them in the future. By mastering your equipment, you can ensure you are well-prepared for any scenario.

3. Evaluate the big picture first

Upon arriving on the scene, the first thing you need to do is evaluate and understand the situation. Especially as a beginner EMT, you must know what you are doing before you do it. The most common cause for a misguided response stems from the first moments on the scene. If the key decision-maker is rushing to solve a problem before understanding it, more problems may arise. The mark of a true veteran is the ability to stop and collect as much information as possible before jumping into action.

Size up the scene and identify any hazards, the number of patients, and the resources available to you. Then, perform a primary assessment, gather information, and determine priorities for your patient or patients. Don’t forget to consider the location of the emergency, and after gathering all the information, take a moment to consider the patient’s specific needs and their medical history. Remain calm, focused, and methodical always.

4. Begin with the basics

Once you’ve assessed the situation, start with the basics. Remember your ABCs: Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. Although every situation is different, you can help yourself gain control of any problem by understanding what basic steps you need to address first and foremost. While performing your basic beginning actions you may discover complications you would have overlooked if you were moving too quickly.

Ascertaining the basics can help you more quickly and more effectively treat your patient. The goal of the basics is to stabilize the patient. Take a safe and systemic approach to ensure quality. Good basics will lead to early detection of serious problems, and it will help you manage your resources when you are in a stressful or rushed situation.

5. Continuously assess and reassess patients

Continuously monitor and reassess patients’ conditions to detect changes and adjust your care plan accordingly. Be aware of signs and symptoms to look for in patients with special conditions, including those with diabetes, heart or respiratory conditions, allergies, neurological disorders, and trauma.

EMTs also need to assess and reassess environmental factors that may affect the patient’s condition. For example, in cases of heat exhaustion, hypothermia, or exposure to hazardous substances, EMTs need to continually monitor and manage the patient’s condition in relation to the environment. Continual assessment and reassessment are critical to providing appropriate and timely care to patients in emergency situations.

Team of EMS workers moving a wounded man

6. Stay current with your training

By staying up to date with the latest protocols, guidelines, and techniques, you can provide the best emergency medical care possible. Some emerging techniques that EMTs may find valuable in their practice include:

Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring: EMTs can now use telecommunication technology to consult with doctors in real-time to receive guidance on patient care.

Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS): EMTs have started employing this non-invasive imaging technique that uses ultrasound to visualize internal organs and structures in real time at the point of care.

High-Flow Nasal Cannula (HFNC) therapy: EMTs can provide early and effective respiratory support with this non-invasive technique that delivers heated and humidified oxygen or air at a high flow rate through a specialized nasal cannula.

7. Develop good communication skills

Effective communication is critical in emergency situations. As an EMT, you should learn to communicate clearly and concisely. Follow established protocols and provide accurate and timely information to ensure seamless care transitions and the best outcomes for patients. Here are some ways EMTs can improve their communication skills:

Active listening: EMTs should practice active listening, which involves focusing on the speaker, avoiding interruptions, and asking clarifying questions to ensure that they understand the information being conveyed.

Use clear and simple language: EMTs should use language that is easy to understand for patients, their families, and other healthcare providers. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may confuse or intimidate others.

Use effective non-verbal communication: Non-verbal communication, such as maintaining eye contact, using appropriate facial expressions, and using gestures, can convey empathy, understanding, and reassurance to patients and their families.

8. Practice good teamwork

Effective teamwork is critical for Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) as they often work in high-pressure situations where seamless coordination and collaboration among team members can make a significant difference in patient outcomes. Here are some ways that EMTs can practice good teamwork:

Foster Mutual Trust and Respect: Trust and respect are foundational elements of good teamwork. EMTs should trust and respect their team members’ skills, knowledge, and expertise. Trust and respect also mean valuing diversity and treating all team members with dignity and professionalism, regardless of their roles or backgrounds.

Review and Learn from Team Performance: After each incident, EMTs should review their team’s performance to identify areas for improvement. This can be done through debriefings, where team members can provide feedback, share insights, and discuss what went well and what could be done better.

Participate in Team Bonding: Regular team training and exercises can help EMTs build teamwork skills and enhance team performance. This can involve simulated scenarios, role-playing exercises, and other team-building activities allowing EMTs to practice working together in realistic emergencies.

9. Treat patients with respect and dignity

This may seem basic, and it should go without saying. However, EMS work can often put you and others in a very stressful environment. As a first responder, it is your responsibility, and it’s to your advantage, to de-escalate and calm stressful situations. Often patients may assess their physical states as worse than they are. It is not your job to convince them otherwise. You are the patient’s advocate; a kind face and gentle words can go a long way.

At the same time, be sensitive to patients from diverse backgrounds, including cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic differences, and provide patient-centered care. Avoiding stereotypes and respecting diversity is essential to offering proper care. Being cognizant of other people’s backgrounds and avoiding assumptions that could lead to misdiagnosis will ultimately improve patient outcomes.

10. Take notes and be consistent

Taking notes and compiling documentation can go a long way through your training or through the course of your career. Accurate and detailed documentation leads to a quicker and deeper understanding of medical ideas and practices. Begin comprehensive documentation early in your training and you may reap significant rewards down the road. Proper notes on the patient, the treatments provided, and the patient’s response offers a reference to be learned from. Furthermore, proper documentation can be used for research, quality improvement, and reimbursement.

Be consistent—with consistency comes familiarity. Without consistency, there is room for misunderstanding. Don’t change anything with your documentation because the situation is different. The more consistent you can be, the less likely you are to overlook crucial details that could help you improve.

Close up of an EMS professional with a stethoscope

11. Stay calm under pressure

Emergency situations can put you in high-stress environments. Developing the ability to remain calm, composed, and focused under pressure is essential for making sound decisions and providing quality care. A few simple strategies to stay calm include controlling your breathing, remembering positive self-talk, and practicing mindfulness. Any or all of these strategies can be employed to help keep a level head on the job.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present and fully engaged in the current moment. Often this can be a surprisingly challenging thing to do. If you are entering an emergency scenario where you know the patient is injured badly, it is important to be mindful. Before you even enter the situation try to control your breathing, furthermore, do not expose yourself to intense imagery all at once. Even with well-trained and experienced professionals shock can set in when exposed to intense imagery too quickly. If you do not take proper precautions, you may find yourself unable to be mindful while on the job.

12. Accept that you will make some mistakes

Nobody is perfect. It is impossible to avoid mistakes, so the best EMTs learn from their mistakes instead of beating themselves up. A true EMS professional never stops learning. A mentality that seeks to learn from every mistake will far surpass a mentality that regrets errors. Human error is unavoidable. Learning from mistakes is the best teacher. With this mindset, you will find it is not difficult to maintain professionalism and safety even when you are faced with personal failure.

13. Find a mentor

Although learning is most effective with hands-on interactions, there is much to be learned from someone with more experience. Learning from an experienced individual can help you see how to change to be more successful. Furthermore, a mentor can help you look at problems from a different perspective or illuminate solutions you may have never come across. There is also much to be said about diversifying the channels you learn from. Watching others, listening, and working as a team can all help you become the best you can be.

Build and maintain positive relationships with colleagues, other healthcare providers, and stakeholders in your community to promote collaboration and improve patient care. Although the job is all about saving lives and improving the health of the people in your community and around the world, this task cannot be done alone. Reaching out and even networking with like-minded professionals will lead you and your community to a healthier place.

14. Stay physically fit

As EMS work involves constant movement and often physically strenuous activities, such as lifting patients, keeping your body as sharp as your mind is important. A proper diet will help you maintain a clear mind and able body while on the job. Furthermore, learning to lift correctly by lifting weights or squatting in your free time will benefit you in the long run.

Strategies to maintain physical fitness are a dime a dozen. Modern fitness theories are everywhere and avenues to stay healthy such as fitness plans, gyms, and dietary schedules, can be found easily. To ensure you stay physically fit it is important to find what works for you. However, regular exercise, healthy diet, and adequate rest all practiced daily are the simple and most effective ways to take care of your body.

15. Cultivate a life outside of EMS work

If you intend on going far in the EMS field, you must become more than just your work. Although wholehearted dedication to your work is admirable, it is not sustainable.

Successful veteran EMTs have taken time to become more than just EMS professionals and enjoy a life beyond their work. Remember to leave room for friendships, hobbies, and other interests. Maintaining a healthy body is just as important as maintaining a healthy mental state. Be strong enough to ask for help if you are struggling, and take time to foster a support system that understands your needs and allows you to rest.

Smiling female paramedic

Start Your Career as an EMT

By keeping these valuable tips in mind through all stages of your professional development, you can take significant steps toward being an outstanding EMT with a long and rewarding career. To get started on your EMT career or improve your level of training and expertise, check out Unitek’s EMT Boot Camp.

2 replies
  1. Rebecca Gardner
    Rebecca Gardner says:

    I like how you said that EMS workers need to have healthy habits and take good care of their bodies. My brother wants to find an air ambulance company to partner with since his new business is in a remote location. I’ll have to share this info so he knows what questions to ask potential air ambulance companies soon.

    • Unitek EMT
      Unitek EMT says:

      Thank you for the kind comment. We’re so glad you enjoyed this article, and we wish your brother all the best!

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