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Lessons From Working in Healthcare

For a long time, I had a dream to work in the healthcare industry and shortly after graduating college I was able to do just that. I mean, I wasn’t saving lives or anything too crazy, but I did learn a lot about the realities of working in the healthcare industry. When I was a naive lil pre-med, I would always hear people talk about how “the healthcare industry is so corrupt.” Well I’m a little less green, and I thought it would be fun to articulate the lessons that I didn’t know before working in healthcare.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in the ambulance and it’s been a fantastic opportunity to reflect. There’s a joke from a tv show I saw that went something like “there’s something about this ambulance that makes me want to open up to you,” and let me tell you, that is so true! I’ve had eye-opening and intimate discussions with people from all walks of life and it’s shown me how different everyone really is. I’ve worked long hours, been with patients through good times and bad, and learned a lot from it. To be honest, being an EMT can suck but the lessons I’ve learned from this experience are infinitely valuable.

The system is set up to profit, not help people. 💰

I didn’t believe it until I saw it. It’s easy to imagine big companies screwing people over for profits, we see it all the time at theme parks, but seeing it in healthcare and the direct effect it has on real people is a tough thing to get over.

There was this one patient who was put on a 5150 (an involuntary 72 hour hold which results from being a danger to yourself or others) and was kept in the hospital for 2 days. On the third day, hours before his hold expired, I was called in to take him to another facility for psychiatric care. Here’s the terrible underbelly of the story – this patient did not get any psychiatric help in the 2 days that he spent in the hospital. To make matters worse, when he was going to be sent to the new facility, the doctor there will do a new examination and will put him on another 5150. This guy came in to his hospital for mental health issues and ended up financially and temporally gouged. That was tough to watch.

On a day car (10 hour day shift), my partners and I knew that the mornings are usually slow (unless there’s an ER call). Sometimes we’d talk, watch movies, or my personal favorite, work on something creative. But I soon found out that we had our slow mornings because hospitals don’t discharge their patients until 1 pm so they can charge their patients for an extra day. The morning is pretty quiet, then bam! It’s 1 pm and every hospital in the county is discharging their patients.

Sometimes patients who can’t pay for the level of care they need or who don’t have good enough insurance usually have to take ambulance rides to places with lower levels of care, which ends up costing them more in the long run. It’s shitty watching someone who can’t afford high qualities healthcare get charged for unnecessary treatments at understaffed facilities.

The industry is filled with people who genuinely want to help. 🤲🏾

Examples of people getting screwed by the system is in no short supply. The people who work in medicine aren’t stupid and see the flaws of the system upfront. The problem is, most people don’t have enough power to change the system and organizing people well enough to change a system is difficult so people try to do what they can to make things better. I would say my healthcare experience was 70% doing my job and 30% trying to help the patient get less screwed. There’s a lot of time and energy spent on good healthcare providers trying to work against their system for the better of the patient.

The reality is rough, but people do care and try to make things better in the small ways that they can.

Rarely anyone in healthcare is really concerned about their own health. 🧟‍♂️

There are some people who are mindful about their health but they are few and far between. Most people don’t sleep enough and if you know Matthew Walker’s work, then you know how dangerous that is, especially for healthcare providers.

It’s too easy to eat like shit. Our eating patterns aren’t fixed and most of the time we are on the go so it’s easy to just grab fast food or eat whatever is in the vending machine. I tried various diets during the last 10 months and I’ve found it so difficult to stick to the diets not because I wanted to eat foods that were forbidden but because it was hard to find access to healthy food. I’ve found fasting to be the healthiest diet while I worked on the ambulance. I can only imagine what that does to people working in the industry for a while.

A balanced life is looked down upon in medicine. The more you work, the more you are respected. It’s pretty lame tbh. There’s no culture of rest or rejuviation for the employees, just the patients.

Healthcare is essentially a religion. 🏩💒⛪️

Working extra hours is like being involved in the community. The doctors are like the priests. The hospital is the church. We have a coded language and a initiation process. Some people think medicine is the end all be all of life. I believe it’s self evident as to why these aren’t the best ideas to adopt but enough people do and to thrive in medicine you have to play the game.

Healthcare providers are still people just going into work like anyone else. 🤦🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️

We’ve all seen The Office, and those who haven’t seen the show have an idea of what the employees are like on the show. Healthcare is no different. People slack off and try to cut corners. They make mistakes and talk mad shit. The system has a relatively high barrier to entry, so it filters out some of that out but people get complacent quickly.

Healthcare workers are usually compassionate and high achieving individuals, but they are still people who can get jaded when it comes to situations that throw most people off. This is why some healthcare workers may come off as rude, disconnected, cold, or callus. They aren’t any of those things. Chances are, they’re just overworked and have seen that situation 4 times that day and it’s not even lunch yet.

We are more physically fragile than we’d like to believe. ⚰️

We are tough but not in some ways. I believe that people are mentally stronger than they give themselves credit for but I also believe that people are physically weaker than they give themselves credit for.

There was this patient who hit his head when he was out with his dad and brother, and he didn’t think it was a big deal. He had a pretty bad headache but his dad and brother told him to man up and tough it out. By the time he got home his pupils were completely dilated, like the eye of horus. He was dead by the time he was brought into the hospital. Hitting your head is a big deal. Chest pain is a big deal. Do yourself a favor and see a professional if you are dealing with either of those, no matter how minor it seems. You won’t be judged for it either, the professionals know how important it is to make sure.

PSA: If you hit your head, feel lethargic, and start to vomit, that is a major sign that you have intracranial pressure (ICP) building in your head from a brain bleed.

Things can always be worse. 🕳

I’ll never forget the day I learned this lesson. One day I clocked in and I thought that I was having a terrible day. My morning just wasn’t going right and the shift was off to a bad start. It was just one of those days when I wasn’t in the mood to go to work, but then I walked into the ER and I saw a woman who was completely broken down crying the the middle of the room. She was literally in the middle of the floor so I knew something was seriously wrong. I looked to the left and saw an ER tech doing compressions on a little boy. One of the nurses told me that they were doing compressions for 22 minutes. The boy didn’t make it. That put things in perspective for me. Things can always be worse.

Hell really is a bottomless pit.

Our choices do matter and will always catch up to us. ⌛️

There was a patient we had who’s chief complaint was a drug overdose. The patient ended up being the same age as the nurse as I was working with. The nurse told me that they went to high school together and how crazy it was to think that the guy’s life was ending just as his career was beginning. He told me that that our patient always lived the fast life. Everything catches up to us. I’ve seen thing sort of this over and over with so many patients. They’re in the hospital not because they have some acute pathological condition, but because they made low quality choices every day for years.

Most RNs understand lifestyle balance. ⚖️

I met nurses who could have became doctors but chose nursing because of the lifestyle balance that it offers. Nursing is also unionized so it’s pretty rare for nurses to get screwed over when it comes to pay, vacation days, time off, etc. Nurses aren’t worked into the ground like doctors and everyone respects them. A lot of the nurses I met went into it because of the lifestyle balance that it offers. I think it’s so important to know what you want for your own life rather than just blindly shoot for the highest position in a hierarchy.

Spending time doing what I love is what matters most to me. 📖💻🎵🎶🎤🎧

If you work in EMS, it’s pretty common to be held over past the time your shift was scheduled to end. When I signed up for the job I didn’t mind it at first, but after it started happening almost every shift I was forced to reevaluate how I value my time. I remember reading On The Shortness of Life by Seneca (which is on my Must Read Book List) and feeling like being held over was more of a sacrifice than I originally intended. Life is made of time and to give my time is to give my life. If I do not dedicate my time to myself I will always be exhausted and feel as if life is passing me by. Being held over forced me to ask myself what really matters to me because if I didn’t answer that question I would be giving my life to people who do not appreciate it as much as I would. I came to the conclusion that it isn’t medicine that matters to me – or even patient care – its being creative. If I was not dedicating myself to creative endeavours, I was dying. This was probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from this experience because it was a key insight into myself and what success means for me.

If it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen. 📋

The ugly truth – sometimes people do things and don’t write it down, sometimes people write things down that they didn’t do. If you’re admitted to a hospital, I recommend keeping your own written record of everything that happens to you. People in medicine are masters in the art of CYA (Cover Your Ass).

You gotta love old people. 👴🏿👵🏽👴🏽👴🏻👴🏾👵🏻👴🏼👵🏼👵🏾

Most of my patients were old. Like way more than I was expecting. The volume of geriatric patients we get is always a point of conversation with everyone I’ve worked with. The geriatric community is a strong pillar of the medical empire.

Finding the sweet spot of compassion is a must. 🍬

Compassion is what gives birth to great patient care, but you can’t be too compassionate or else you’d be completely drained by the end of a shift. It’s possible to go through all the major moments of life in one day. You can have one call where a baby is born, you can have another call where a little kid is hurt, you can have another call that ends up in death. Anything can happen so it’s important to get that perfect level of disconnection. Don’t be too disconnected, but don’t be so invested either.

The job is physically and emotionally draining and you need to be emotionally and mentally tough. I believe the best way to build emotional and mental stability is through consistent practice of meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude.


Special Thanks

To all the people who made my time doing IFT somewhat manageable.

  • Adrian
  • Kyle
  • Shane
  • Kingsley
  • Alena
  • Zackaree
  • Luke
  • David
  • Michael
  • Krystal

P.S. I’m still an EMT, I’m just not doing interfacility transports. I’m switching to event safety so I can have more flexible hours. 😉

By Chris

During the day, I’m a tutor and EMT.
In the evenings, I like to blog and produce music.