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A warning to youngsters

People signing up for EMT and Paramedic schools are at an all time high. The economy is so bad, that people are trying to gain job skills to be employable. Employers are taking advantage of this, and things are getting tight. In the peninsula of Florida, there are a few choices for EMT or Paramedic jobs:

1- Fire Department. This is a decent job with good pay, but the hours are long. You go to EMT school, and then Fire school. This takes about 7 months to complete. You take a certifying exam for both, and then start looking for work. Paramedic takes an additional year. Starting pay is $10-12 an hour for a Firefighter-EMT with no experience. Paramedics get around $13-16 an hour. Firefighters work 48-56 hours a week on average, so take home starts near $30,000 a year for EMTs, and $40,000 for Paramedics. Pensions are nor what they once were, but they are still better than most other professions. The real downside is that the competition is fierce. Even a “stepping stone” department, where many new firefighters get a job, earn experience, and them move on has a lot of applicants. Departments with a job opening are getting 200-300 applicants for each position. For that reason, there are so many unemployed people with firefighter certifications, that the state has largely shut down funding for the training of new firefighters. Unless you have experience or are a minority, getting a job as a firefighter is a long shot.

2- Hospitals, Doctor’s offices, and clinics: These usually have decent hours, good working conditions, and pay varies widely. Hospitals pay well, and you usually work the Emergency Department in 3-12 hour shifts per week. Starting pay is usually $12 for EMTs and $16-$17 for Paramedics. Again, hard to come by, but not as hard as firefighter or theme park spots. You are restricted in what you can do by many places, so the work is not very exciting or challenging.

3- Theme parks: Even more difficult to get into than a firefighting spot, but the hours are great and flexible, and the starting pay is $14-16 an hour. Benefits are outstanding, if you can get a full time spot, but those are becoming as rare as unicorn sightings.

4- So you are then left with private ambulances. In this area, all these companies do is haul non-emergency medical patients between nursing homes, hospitals, and dialysis clinics. No 911 or emergency calls. In fact, in many counties, if the patient is emergent the ambulance is REQUIRED to pull over and wait for a 911 unit from the fire department to take over the patient. Starting pay is $9-10 for EMTs, and $13-14 for paramedics. Benefits are poor. Shifts are long, normally 12-14 hours each. You do not get a station to sit in on those times where you wait for your next call. You sit in the truck and wait. No reading, eating, sleeping, watching movies on your electronic devices, no texting, no phone use, and no drinking of anything except water. (Not even coffee) These jobs are easy to get, but turnover is high, and most people don’t stay for long, using this place to get experience and move on. A person that stays at one of these places for more than 2 years becomes unemployable anywhere else, because many employers assume that you are stuck there for a reason.

One manager at a private ambulance company told me that his crews were not allowed to eat during shift, because he doesn’t pay them to eat. Another told me that patient care is secondary to keeping the customer (nursing home, hospital, etc) happy, and that the patient was just cargo, and no one cares what cargo thinks. One of my former EMT students was told by an employer when he complained about working conditions, that for every EMT that was working there, there were 7 more looking for a job, and if he didn’t like it, he could be replaced tomorrow.

Compare that to other jobs in the area: Fast food pays $8.50-9 an hour, or about as much as an EMT, and without the exposure to diseases that comes with EMT. Paramedic jobs that started at $14 an hour ten years ago are starting at $13.23 now. In comparison, my son went to nursing school after only three years as a paramedic, and his pay is now $32 an hour. Nursing school is the same length as paramedic, but more than double the pay.

There is a reason why the average EMT or paramedic spends less than 5 years in this job: injuries, poor working conditions, a lack of appreciation for hard work, and low pay all too frequently make the best and most talented leave. My advice to people that are thinking about a career in this field changed about two years ago: stay away.

3 replies on “A warning to youngsters”

I've probably said the about 1,000 times by now, but that won't stop me.

There is no shortage of paramedics. There is a shortage of paramedics willing to work for the low pay, non existent benefits, and crappy working conditions that most private (and some municipal) services offer.

If they wanted more paramedics to stay in the system longer, they'd fix that. Only they don't have to because mills are turning out so many so fast.

I meant to leave this comment a couple of days ago, but got distracted. I do read you essentially every day.

I appreciate your honest summary of what's going on in the field, but as potential "cargo" it scares me. I have one experience with EMT here in Brevard, and was treated well; that was over 13 years ago (the Y2K weekend) so things may have gone down since then. I have no idea what life was like on the other side of the stretcher!

I work in a different world, but it's my perspective that everyone in health care is getting squeezed way too much. It's just going to get worse as Obamacare rolls in. Meanwhile, the fraud industry that DC can't seem to handle is stronger than ever.

Wow, it is amazing how depressed your region's economy is. In the Northwest unskilled day labor gets $10 an hour for landscaping, construction, etc.

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