Saturday, May 7, 2011

W is for Women in EMS

The sight of a female paramedic raises nary an eyebrow these days, but 25 years ago, when I first got into EMS, the obstacles were as rampant as they were ridiculous. I would like to systematically address the arguments against women in EMS that I have heard over the years.

First there are the charges that are simply untenable. We are too emotional and we can’t handle the blood and guts. Emotion is a trait that is absolutely necessary in this line of work. Being unable to control one’s emotions is a liability but it is baseless to claim that women as a gender can’t and men can. I have comforted a male co-worker as he sobbed after we had to pry the stiff body of a baby boy who had died of SIDS from his hysterical father’s hands, and I sent a room full of male police officers puking over a motel railing when I accidentally “popped” a guy who had been dead for a week in July. (I’ll leave the specifics of that one to your imagination). Some people want to do this work and some don’t. If you have an aptitude for it, education and training gets you through the sad and icky parts.

Women aren’t strong enough to do the job. It is an anatomical fact that women, overall have less body strength than men. The important thing is to have physical standards. At our agency we have the MPAT, (Medic Physical Agilities Test). It is the same for men and women and is designed to replicate the physical demands of the job. Do the men get through it faster? Some do. My time is near the top of the females and about in the middle of the males and I am 53 years old and weigh 135lbs. The important thing is to stay healthy, maintain a good weight, and exercise! And, use your head as much as your muscles when encountering heavy lifting. No one can lift a 400lb patient by themselves…ask for back-up!

Women aren’t good at math and science… (Huh?) Do I really need to address that one?

Women shouldn’t work so closely with men, they might have sex. (This was always spoken in whisper). News flash folks…men and women in all professions have affairs, fall in love, get married, get divorced, have sex with their boss, have sex with their employees… It’s a matter of professionalism or the lack thereof. I have slept in a station bunk room with half a dozen men who snore, fart and their feet stink. Trust me; I would be much more inclined to tete-a-tete with a well groomed executive in a suit, if I were inclined to do such a thing, which I am not. Most women in EMS have had to work way too hard for respect in this industry to jeopardize it for a fling with a fireman. Does it happen? Oh sure, but no more so than in any other work situation.

On the same note…The station wives will be jealous. HMMM…they probably would be jealous of their husbands’ secretaries if they worked in an office or the female teachers if they worked in a school. To systematically deny women an opportunity based on the fact that a lot of people have bad marriages is just plain stupid. Nuff said!

Now here is my favorite. Men are naturally protective of women and will put their lives on the line to save them in dangerous situations. Let me set the scene. A male and female crew responds to a general illness call. They are the first to arrive and there was nothing in the 911 call to indicate a need for police response. Our crew finds an elderly woman crying and complaining of feeling bad. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel well because her grandson has been beating on his girlfriend for several hours and she is nearly unconscious. The situation quickly deteriorates, a gun is produced and the female medic gets shot. Our male hero then has to put his life on the line to try and drag his partner to safety. Uhhh…if the injured partner were a man wouldn’t he do the same thing. I mean, wouldn’t anyone try to save their partner regardless of their gender. I have never really understood this argument. Oh, and by the way. If the roles were reversed and the female had to drag the male to safety, don’t worry, being able to drag a 190lb body dummy is part of our training. Piece of cake, especially in a high adrenaline situation.

Last but not least…women will upset The Brotherhood. Take the no girls allowed sign off the tree house boys. We don’t want to ruin your party; we just want the same opportunities afforded to you. You can get together after work and bond and complain about women all you want, but to deny over half the population a chance a something meaningful to them based on what I have discussed here is illegal and just plain wrong. Good thing it doesn’t happen anymore…or does it? These arguments sound similar to ones being played out in the news these days about women in combat. Hang in there ladies…one day the military will chuckle and wonder why it was ever such an issue.


  1. A great post! And well done! Women should have a well-deserved placed in society which is not linked with frying pans! I am also an advocate for equal rights and recogition and I appreciate your post!

  2. Well said (for a woman!)!
    ONLY KIDDING! Sheesh!

  3. A really well written, insightful article!

    I work in remote locations where female medics are almost completely disallowed. What a shame that is. Lady medics have been some of the strongest that I've ever worked with.

    20 years in EMS? You didn't start out when it was easier, did you? :-)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  4. Dwayne, Thank you for the nice comments. I retired last year with 28 years in EMS and it was more difficult when I started but we soon made our way into the fabric of the industry. I am curious...where do you work that women are "disallowed"? I was a wilderness SAR specialist in addition to my work in urban EMS and we had no trouble keeping up with the guys. I have spent more than a week in remote mountains with only a day pack. I thought that mentality had been overcome...guess we still have a ways to go.