Long Hours and Demanding Shifts: Maintaining Work/Life Balance as an EMT

Students who’ve recently decided to pursue a career as an emergency medical technician (EMT) are entering a demanding field. EMTs are integral to local emergency services; people’s lives depend on an EMT reacting rapidly and appropriately to varying types of emergencies and situations.

Working as an EMT is Rewarding

Working as an EMT is a rewarding experience that provides numerous opportunities to save lives and make a difference in the community. However, being aware that EMTs frequently work irregular and unstructured hours is important.

Shifts are often long, lasting 12 hours or more, if necessary. Balancing family life and personal obligations with the demands required of an EMT can be extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible.

EMT Turnover is Costly
The process of recruiting, screening and training employees can be a costly venture for businesses. A recent study discovered that the median cost of turnover for EMTs was in excess of $71,000.00 per employee. Retaining top performing employees is an ongoing objective for businesses employing EMTs.

Work/Life Imbalance is the Primary Reason for Quitting
The primary reason cited by employees as a reason to quit is work/life imbalance. The traditional rotating shifts make it difficult for EMTs, especially students, to achieve a balance between work and life. Rotating schedules can wreak havoc on the body and immune system. The interruption to normal sleep cycles coupled with irregular meal schedules can contribute to health problems and burnout.
Conversely, some individuals enjoy the hours and having off-time when other people are working can provide for interesting opportunities as well as savings on vacations. Some individuals make this work by working 12 hour shifts 3 days a week, and enjoying four day breaks in between.

Individuals interested in pursuing a career as an EMT should be prepared to make certain lifestyle adjustments. If having a set schedule form 9am to 5pm is important to an individual, considering a career as an EMT may not be practical.

Organizations are Working Towards Helping Employees Manage Work/Life Imbalance Issues
Organizations are considering schedules and making efforts to enhance working conditions for EMT professionals. Most organizations are tailoring schedules around popular lifestyles needs while making those changes as cost effective as possible.

12 and 24 hour units tend to offer the most cost effective and efficient ways for employers to provide coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some employers are taking the initiative to develop a 51 hour work week for EMTs involving 12 and 24 hour shifts scheduled on the same days. By using this method health care organizations are discovering that resources seem to be distributed more efficiently.
In this system employee shifts are determined according to:

  • A pattern of set days;
  • An overall number of shifts;
  • Number of days off between shifts;
  • An employee’s preference for 12-24 hour shifts

Employees choose their shifts according to:

  • The pattern of set days worked every week of each option;
  • The overall number of shifts worked;
  • The number of days off in between shifts; and
  • The preference for 12- or 24-hour shifts.

Despite recent innovations work schedules for EMTs are demanding and the job is physically challenging. Not everyone is suited for working over 40 hours per week, nor can everyone meet the physical demand required by 12 and 24 hour shifts. Burnout in this field is extremely common, and candidates should be prepared to be mindful of stress levels.

In addition to testing prep, practice, and studies, students should ensure they are prepared for rigors of life as an EMT. There are individuals smart enough to obtain certification as an EMT, but who are unable to manage the various stresses involved with the job.


A Schedule Staff Can Live With –   51s schedule –    jems.com. (n.d.).   Jems.com – Features, Resources, Videos & More    Jems.com. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from http://m.jems.com/article/ems-insider/schedule-staff-can-live

The Longitudinal Study of Turnover and the Cost of Turnover in Emergency Medical Services, Prehospital Emergency Care, Informa Healthcare    . (n.d.). An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10903120903564514

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