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Being Young

Being young in EMS is an interesting thing. You go through Paramedic school being called a “para-pup” or other such things and then, when you actually pass and get to the field, you are usually a young person to begin with coupled with no experience thinking and working at that level. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s how it works in everything: you start with no experience and gain some.

It’s talked about, looked down on by others, whispered about, and spoken about with distain by even senior EMT partners who talk about not letting some young para-god run their truck. TO be fair, I understand this attitude. Paramedic school has a way of sending you out thinking that you know a LOT and that you’re ready. You have the knowledge. You have the skills. You have the drugs. You’ve run hundreds of scenarios…thousands of test questions. You’ve got this on lockdown. Sure, inside you may be nervous as heck because you have never been the ONE in charge, but you still think you’ve got this. It’s a fine line of balance between egotism and self-confidence. With some this is egotism as a “para-god” when YOU know it ALL. You don’t. Some swing the other way and have fear that you’ll mess up. You probably won’t in the way you’re thinking of. The middle ground is self-confidence.

But we’re still young paramedics. As B.J. Honeycutt once said, “It’s ok, you’ll grow out of it.” Being a young paramedic is an opportunity to learn in ways you didn’t know you could. Internship is great and we soak in the information as much as we can while under our preceptors wing. However, you can’t take their years of experience and own that for yourself. You must get your own. Through that, you will learn yourself some valuable lessons.


For me these things are the intangibles of medicine and critical decision making. I have been faced with situations that never came up in school or internship. That’s life for ya. There are learning moments I’ll never forget.

Times such as being sent to a 10 year old who “was being violent”, coming around the corner and seeing local first responders having cornered this young man into a chair in the corner with cuffs on. He was sullen and angry. An older and much more senior or “seasoned” paramedic telling me, “Well, we’re gonna have to restrain him.” My gut asked me, “Why are you restraining a 10 year old?”

Now, to be fair, he’d destroyed some drywall with his feet, kicked walls, and punched and kicked staff. I get that. And I allowed him to be lead to my gurney in handcuffs by police, uncuffed, and placed into the top restraints. “Funny”, my brain said, “I see we’re restraining a crying 10 year old who isn’t even big enough to reach the lower straps. Are you SURE this is the best course of action?” No, I wasn’t, but I let myself stay quiet because of what the more experienced medic on the call said. I then rode with him to the hospital with a crying, restrained 10 year old. The further we went, the more it bothered me. I managed to talk to him and calm him down. He was scared, upset at something, and back to terrified.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t know what the right course of action is. I’ll never restrain another 10 year old like that again.

In hindsight, I would have told that other paramedic, “No, I don’t think that’s needed. I don’t want to restrain a 10-year old unless he’s trying to kill me.” I would have stood my ground instead of caving to pressure of someone I assumed to be better at this than me.

I’ll never forget being the “young medic” who walked into the bedroom of a gentleman in his 60’s complaining of chest pain. He’s lying there pale and sweating telling the first-arriving paramedic that his pain is severe and feels tight. That it feels like the last time he had a heart attack…but that it was years ago. The man looks sick.

I’ll never forget the first medic’s monitor spitting out a 12-lead ECG that does NOT say ***ACUTE MI SUSPECTED*** and the medic saying, “It’s ok, he’s not having a STEMI.”

I’ll never forget seeing ST-Elevation that was about 0.9mm high in 3 contiguous leads with QRS’s that were barely 3mm high. I’ll never forget how much effort it took to look at this much senior paramedic and say, “I disagree, I see a STEMI here and we need to go now.” Turns out this man went to the Cath-Lab. Funny how that works.

So, no, being young is not bad. Being a para-god at any age is bad and being a smug, egotistical little puke is bad too; being young and inexperienced is not. It gives a new perspective and allows you to see things differently than others might. Being young means being open to learn everything you can and should from those more experienced and knowledgeable. It also means a fresh chance to not learn bad lazy habits from older people. I’m not talking down on “the old guard.” They have great experience and I can learn a LOT from them. I do every shift. I am saying that each day I’m gaining experience, but I have to make it my OWN. As I go into my 3rd year as a paramedic, I "grow out of it" as B.J. said, but I never fail to remember that I'm young. And that's ok.

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