Many EMS services report difficulties attracting and retaining EMTs and paramedics. The rate of attrition varies across services, but there are several common factors including emotional and physical wellbeing. These factors contribute towards high voluntary EMS turnover.
Although its not practical to completely address all factors, it's possible to address many through better training, team building exercises and the provision of facilities that allow stressed employees to let off steam in a safe, healthy way.
Research into Reasons for EMS Turnover
To better understand reasons for EMS turnover, the American Ambulance Association (AAA) in conjunction with Avesta Systems Inc., a company specializing in EMS HR Solutions, analyzed turnover data from 119 EMS organizations.
This revealed that turnover for full-time EMTs and paramedics was between 24 and 25 percent. Voluntary turnover was 18 percent for EMTs and 21 percent for paramedics, with the balance being involuntary turnover associated with resizing and employee discharge for performance and behavioral issues.
The most common reasons for voluntary resignation include:
- Unhappiness with pay and benefits
- Change of occupation and career
- To attend school
- Lack of career advancement
- Dissatisfaction with the organization
- Relocation to another area
How the Work Environment Affects Employee Emotional Health
An earlier Montana Department of Health study identified five factors that contributed toward employee stress and turnover. Family issues such as work schedules that limit family interaction cause emotional stress. Organizational issues including insufficient funding and lack of employee support structures further exacerbate the situation.
Sleep deprivation arising from the need to stay alert for long periods of time and difficulty relaxing when off shift is another factor. The 24-hour shifts worked by many EMS services can increase the risk of sleep-related issues. Consequences of sleep deprivation include poor motivation, fatigue, slow reaction time and impaired judgment.
Due to the nature of EMS work, there's a high degree of job stress. Each time there's a call, adrenalin kicks in, followed by a feeling of exhaustion once the crisis is over. This continual cycle leads to chronic stress that can affect concentration and cause physical illnesses.
Financial stress related to pay is a major issue compounded by long working hours and absence from important family events.
Seven Common Physical and Mental Ailments Faced by EMS Personnel
Apart from stress and sleep deprivation, EMS workers are susceptible to various other illness that can lead to disability and early retirement. They face a considerably higher risk of heart disease due to over-exertion, particularly if overweight and unfit. Exposure to chemicals and noxious fumes can lead to cancers as well as to respiratory diseases. There's also a risk of infection when treating patients with open wounds, including hepatitis and HIV. Finally, EMS personnel are susceptible to work-related injuries such as back injuries and muscle strain.
Dealing With These Seven Common Health Ailments
When taking these factors into account, it's not surprising that EMS personnel face a risk of burnout that leads to premature resignation or retirement. The good news is that it's possible to address these seven common health ailments and reduce employee turnover. Some ways to achieve this include:
- Provision of exercise areas
- Implementation of support systems
- Team building exercises
- Training in lifting techniques
- Proper nutrition
- Addressing sleep deprivation.
To find out more, download the free eBook on Promoting EMS staff Productivity from Graham Medical.