What’s Your Workplace MO?

What’s Your Workplace MO? header image 1

Burnout doesn’t just affect Doctors: One EMT’s story

November 29, 2019



Announcer:                      00:05                  Welcome to what's your MO in Healthcare, the podcast that's all about understanding the core motives of the people you work with and manage in healthcare.

Megan:                            00:17                  Welcome to What's your MO in Healthcare? And today I have Greg Clifford and he is a recently retired EMT who is joining me today to talk a little bit about his experience as a volunteer EMT, what that involves and what are some of the stressors and Things that may be people in the medical profession can learn from his experience, whether it comes to burnout or what drives someone to become an EMT and maybe learn some lessons from Greg. So with that, welcome.

Greg                                                             Thanks for having me.

Megan                                                         You bet. So Greg, let me start off. Um, you're a volunteer EMT. Recently retired. How long were you a volunteer EMT?

Greg                                 01:05                  I've got 20 years at the end of this year in EMS. I started back in the 90s, but I took a few breaks and so, you know, there's actually more years since I started to now than there than I did in service.

Megan:                            01:22                  And what interested you about the profession?

Greg:                                01:27                  It's funny because I've sat on a lot of interview committees for new EMTs in our organization. We askthat question all the time. You know what, why do you want to be an EMT? What motivated you? Everybody gives a pat answer. I want to help people, right? What people forget to say, a lot of their motivations are beyond that. You know, it's nice to help people, but there's an excitement to it, right? There's a, maybe somebody was in a situation where they saw somebody that needed CPR or somebody who was in a car wreck. They came upon them and they felt helpless. And so for me, I had some situations like that too, where you know, that, wow, uh, I feel like I don't have anything to offer to these people that needed help. I had a landlord that was multigenerational firefighter and he invited me to come down to fire station one night, see what they did and what they were all about. And I saw that and I thought, this is so cool. These people are empowered with these new sets of skills with these tools to do something more than just stand by or call 911 So that's really above and beyond helping people why I wanted to do it.

Megan:                            02:36                  So it was feeling empowerment, feeling like you could offer something and that satisfaction of building your skills. So why did you decide to do that on a volunteer basis versus making it a career?

Greg:                                02:55                  I was already pretty far along in my career when I got the opportunity to try it out. But I did consider a career change at one point. But EMS is not a high paying field unless you've been in it a long time and you end up being management or something, you know, teaching you how to add things on, you know, or have lots of years of service. So it's, it's pretty low pay for what they have to do. So I stayed in the broadcast/IT world instead.

Megan:                            03:30                  Yeah. It has its own stresses, I'm sure. So what does a volunteer EMT schedule look like? How does that work versus being on the payroll?

Greg:                                03:44                  Different in every department. When I was in Pennsylvania, they had what they called the jolly volley slot and that was 6:00 PM to midnight. So after most people were done working, they would go and run until midnight when most people need to go to bed so they can sleep and do their day job. In Moscow here it's different. It's shift based. So you have A, B, C, D shift and you're on for 24 hours from 7:30 morning until 7:30 the next morning.

Megan                             04:17                  when you say you're on, you're on call, correct?

Greg:                                04:21                  Yup. So you carry a radio with you, you also have an app on your phone that will send you an alert and that's whatever you're doing, you're supposed to drop what you're doing and go answer the call.

Megan:                            04:34                  So that might be one of those stressors in terms of being on call, because working in the healthcare field, I talk to practitioners and doctors and they say that's probably one of the most stressful things is being on call. So tell me why that is. Why is that stressful?

Greg:                                04:51                  Yeah. You can never just truly relax, right? You can't even watch a movie at home without thinking, well, I've got to have my radio on. It's got to be loud enough that it can hear it over the movie. Um, at night when you sleep, you’ve got to balance like, well, I need this radio loud enough. It's going to wake me up, but hopefully not wake my spouse up. It's just never, you're always on alert. You're always on high alert. There's just no time to really, you know, you can't go out and eat, because your meal probably will get interrupted and you'll have to walk away from your friends that you wanted to have dinner with. Things like that. So you have to, you have to give up a lot while your on call.

Megan:                            05:29                  And what are some of the other stressors that an EMT particularly volunteer EMT would experience?

Greg:                                05:36                  Oh, you are going to eventually run into somebody you know and it might even be somebody that's your own family if you're in a small enough town. So you may find yourself doing CPR on your own relative or on your best friend’s relatives. It's a, yeah, that's another stressor for them.

Megan:                                                        Any particular examples or stories that you're willing or able to tell that were particularly traumatic or that you remember?

Greg:                                                           Well I did CPR on my own brother-in-law. That was a not a comfortable thing. And you know, we're, we're trained to just do our thing, right? We train enough, we know what to do. We just go into action. But you also look up once in a while just to see or is it still a safe place for me to be? Things like that. That's part of your training. And I remember doing CPR on my brother in law and looking up and what I saw was horrified faces of my wife and my sister in law and the grief on their faces. It was just so huge. And you know, you just feel that to the core of yourself when you see that going on. It happens with people you don't know. Yyu look up and see their grief, but when it's somebody, you know, it really strikes home.

Megan:                            06:57                  How do you manage that? How do you come off of something like that?

Greg:                                07:02                  It's hard. Mostly, at least for me, you just push it down deep somewhere and you try to put it away. And that's some of the motivation for me to stop doing this. I’ve pushed 20 years of it down and I'm not sure I have the resilience to keep pushing it down.

Megan:                                                        How do you think it might express itself?

Greg:                                                           Oh, all kinds of ways. I mean, burnout, you know, that's the thing. It's like, whether you call it burnout, compassion, fatigue, PTSD, they're all really tightly intertwined. All those terms and it expresses itself like “Ever been so tired that it hurts?”  mean, that's for me was the symptom as of late. It's just you, it doesn't matter who, if you sleep eight hours or 10 hours or 12 hours, you still just have to drag yourself out of bed the next day because it's not just a physical hurt, it's a mental hurt on top of it. It just consumes you. Just uses every bit of energy you have after a while.

Megan                                                         So your colleague, some paid, some volunteers. Is it something that people talk about? Is it something that you can see maybe as someone who's maybe experiencing that have a higher awareness?

Greg:                                08:28                  There is more awareness and it’s becoming more acceptable to talk about it nowadays. Um, there's a code green campaign, which is a bigger nationwide one, but even locally, we've tried to put together some peer support groups and things like that. And I think our command people are embracing it more than they used to. But in Moscow in particular, we're a very young organization as far as our EMTs. So our ratio of 20 year olds to people who are 40 plus is it's way different. So at 20, you've got a lot more resilience. I mean, these are the people that we're sending to the front lines in war and expecting to protect your country. Well, we do that because that's the age of people who, you know, charge forward. They work hard. They can go 24 hours without sleeping and still function the next day. You don't see a lot of really old EMTs and, that's why. Age has something to do with it. The physical nature of the work.

Megan:                                                        But you're saying also the years of seeing things and pushing down those memories are the things that in order to keep functioning eventually does catch up.

Greg:                                09:44                  Yeah. We had a, a recent college graduate who’s still with us in our EMS who said to a couple of us the other day, “I don't know how you guys do this and have full time jobs?” because now he's out of school and he's having to deal with the rigors of a full time job plus doing the volunteer work. He's only 20 somethin. It’s tough to balance it.

Megan:                            10:11                  So any words of wisdom to a young person just getting into this field, maybe something around recognizing when they might be feeling burnt out or the importance of pacing yourself or anything after looking back at 25 years of doing this?

Greg:                                10:31                  Yeah, I think you need to talk to people when you feel bad. It used to be everybody who is associated with fire departments, mostly with EMS and the volunteer world and they've got a way about them, you know, they eat smoke and they do brave things and run into fires and all this and that whole mindset wasn't really conducive to people saying “I don't feel good. I feel crappy after that call. I feel sad.” You just, you didn't say it. Nowadays there are different generations. We’ve got the Gen Z's and the Millennials and, and all that. They are less worried about having people judge them about mental issues and there's less stigma I think with these newer generations. I think they're more willing to talk about it. That's great. That's a positive.

Greg:                                11:28                  I think it's good because you’ve got to talk it through sometimes. I'll have it build up and build up.  In a non-volunteer setting where you're running with a partner a lot and maybe the same core group of people. you talk amongst each other but in a volunteer situation, you don't often work with the same people all the time. Especially in our world (university town) where the churn happens because they graduate and they leave. So you end up always with new people and you don't have that comfort of, well this person knows me, I've been running with them for 10 years or 5 years or whatever. Right. It's a new person. So your shields are up a little bit around that new person and you're probably more in that mentor teaching role.

Greg:                                12:19                  And they look to you as the wise one and you talk about positive things with them and encourage them to be better, not bring them down. So it's hard to take somebody that you're trying to mentor and, and say, “I had a really crappy call.” EMS isn't what you see on TV. It's not all emergency calls and resuscitations you know, a lot of it is nursing home calls and people who are too poor to get medical attention. So they call you because of whatever, you know, or they need to go to the ER because they can't afford a copay or if they even have insurance or they might not even have it.

Megan                             13:19                  So you see a lot of cross section of people that uh, they're calling you because you're the only medical help they're going to get.  So I think what I'd like to do to end is bring it back to Color Code, which is what my podcast is based on. Remember it's a personality assessment tool. I asked you to take that test and you scored a little bit higher on Yellow, which is someone who's motivated by fun and likes that variety and excitement in their work. And that makes a lot of sense because that drew you to this field, which I imagine, you know, you never know what you're going to get into. There are folks who really like that. That's an adrenaline thing. Exciting. But you also tested fairly high on Blue, which is motivated by relationships again, makes perfect sense because you're working with people, you're motivated to help them. Those two colors happen to be very emotion-based so you can see how someone like yourself after 20 some odd years of doing this, it could be pretty draining because it's a highly emotional thing. It does make sense and helpful for people to think about that. That's why that's such an important tool because it helps you understand why you're responding the way you are and helps you make some decisions and understand how you can help yourself.

Megan:                            14:52                  Well with that, Greg, I so appreciate it. Interesting topic and wish you all the best in your retirement and enjoy yourself after so many years of service that we really appreciate.

Greg:                                                           Thanks. You bet. Okay. With that, this is What's your MO in Healthcare?

Megan:                            15:12                  Thanks for listening to what's your MO in Healthcare? You can find us on Apple podcasts or on Podbean. If you like this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe and to let us know what you think. You can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Our website is MOinhealthcare.com