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Paramedics are much more than ambulance drivers

I would like to express my and every other prehospital professional's displeasure with the generalization the media, both written and televised, have bestowed upon us as "ambulance drivers."

First, I'd like to give you all a brief idea of the requirements to become an emergency medical technician and paramedic. It starts at EMT school. That is a semester of a college-accredited course. The subsequent classes are not as simple as one might think. EMT-Intermediate is another semester that entails training in intravenous access and intubations (breathing tubes).

The paramedic course is more than a year of arduous clinical and didactic training that can be summed up as a short medical school residency. Those of us who have completed medic school spent hundreds of unpaid hours in a classroom or hospital doing clinical training, or on an ambulance doing field training. For us to be classified as "ambulance drivers" is a monstrous minimization of the learning process we all endured.

Napoleon was the first to assign personnel to provide minimal care to the wounded during battle; although many were near death, the need was noted. They were known as litter-bearers. In 1862, Dr. Jonathan Letterman initiated the first team that removed injured soldiers from the battlefield within 24 hours.

During World War I and the advent of modern medicine, soldiers were trained in the practice of splinting, IV medication and tracheotomies. By World War II and Vietnam, the role of medic was an undoubted necessity. Which brings us to today's modern paramedic.

To write us off as ambulance drivers is like calling a lawyer a book worm. We all have spent countless hours studying, observing and practicing. To ignore the fact that our trade is skilled is ignorant.

Look into the eyes of a fireman who hands you a baby who is not breathing, or the wife who has no idea why her husband is white as a ghost, sweating profusely and having crushing chest pain. I would like you all to try to tell a person that no matter what my partner or I do, your loved one is not going to live.

Try to look at a car accident from half a mile away and know that it is not good. Try to calm a scared elderly person who needs medical attention but is so afraid of dying that he may advance his own fate by not obtaining the appropriate care.

Bring a human being into this world on a dirty mattress or floor. Watch a person take his or her last breath and know you will not overcome that. Attempt to calm a psychiatric patient who wants nothing else but to die. Witness child and elderly abuse and try to remove your own family from those images. I can go on and on but will leave it at that.

All we ask is that we get the recognition we deserve. We no longer throw people in a hearse and drive to a hospital. We, at times, are people's only means of health care, a friend, a reassuring voice or the calm during a storm. So please do not call us ambulance drivers. We are paramedics!

Jeff Abbott is president of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics Local 394, Twin City Ambulance.

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