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Stanford Medicine

Emergency Medicine

Ambulance drivers: slow down, it won't hurt


After three years as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in metropolitan Boston, the sight and sound of an approaching ambulance still quickens my pulse. But my EMT trainers cautioned me not to drive recklessly while using lights and sirens, because it’s embarrassing and tragic when reckless driving leads EMTs to need rescuing themselves.

Speeding wouldn’t have necessarily saved any of my patients’ lives, either, according to an article in Slate magazine. The article cites a recent study in Annals of Emergency Medicine that shows no association between the survival of serious trauma patients and the amount of time emergency medical services took to get them to the hospital. As the article reports:

These results are fascinating, in part because the principal question – how important is speed in the care of trauma patients before they get to the hospital? – has never been so elegantly explored. Previous efforts to measure the effect of ambulance time on survival have been plagued by the fundamental problem that medics may behave differently, like driving faster or spending more time working on patients, depending on the severity of the condition, making it impossible to tease out the effect of time on survival. While some of these biases remain, the authors of this study used sophisticated methods to account for many of these problems, allowing the reader to reasonably conclude that for ambulance care, a few minutes either way neither saves nor costs lives for patients with severe trauma.

I admit, I was drawn to the profession by the thrill of the driving. Without that adrenaline rush, the work of an emergency medical technician is mostly paperwork and heavy lifting.

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2 Responses to “ Ambulance drivers: slow down, it won't hurt ”

  1. Kendra Says:

    “I admit, I was drawn to the profession by the thrill of the driving. Without that adrenaline rush, the work of an emergency medical technician is mostly paperwork and heavy lifting.” —-Are you kidding me??? So inaccurate and untrue! I’ve worked as an EMT in Boston and the Boston area for almost ten years. Here’s what I dealt with last week — which by the way is a typical work week for me: 12 drug ODs (heroin, cocaine, crack, meth, you name it; 1 delivery of a premature baby in a stairwell; a 3 month-old girl in cardiac arrest (she lived); an 11 yr old choking on chicken (he died); a 37 yr old choking on steak (she lived); 2 suicides (one by hanging, the other by drinking lots of bleach – he lived); 1 threatening to kill himself and everyone else aboard the train – he was arrested; 1 subarach bleed; 3 strokes; 3 sex assaults; numerous shootings/stabbings; cardiac disorders; respiratory and diabetic emergencies; pedestrian struck; and so many EDPs and DKs, I lost count. So, no. There is certainly a lot more to being an EMT than paperwork and heavy lifting. And by the way, driving is the most relaxing part of the job.

  2. Sandra M. Chung Says:

    Kendra, my experience was very different from yours. I think most of the differences have to do with where and when we worked, and possibly our levels of training. For the benefit of non-EMTs: Boston has several competing ambulance companies and it divvies up its 9-1-1 calls between them by territory. Some of those territories are real danger zones; others, like college campuses, are much quieter. But no matter where you are, many 9-1-1 calls are for things like flulike symptoms, minor falls, and homeless people who crave warm shelter in the ER on a freezing night. I saw MVAs, drug addicts, and med and psych emergencies, but only when there weren’t nearby paramedic trucks to dispatch (I was an EMT-B, a lower level of training than EMT-P, or paramedic). And not all ambulance transports are for emergencies, either. I and many of my colleagues spent a lot more time transporting people with chronic illnesses who didn’t need the ER; they were simply too frail to travel by cab to the hospital or to dialysis clinics. But the core of every call was good assessment and documentation, lifting and moving patients in a way that didn’t injure anybody, and getting them where they needed to go so the doctors and nurses could do their jobs. It was good, solid work, but for me and many other EMTs, the thrills were few and far between.


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