People Care

This is the best book any EMT can own.

I say that as someone with a strong clinical focus, and a passion for improving and elevating the educational standards in our field. I am an avowed nerd, and drip rates, T-wave inversions, and case reviews are what keep me awake at night. Yet I consistently recommend this little “warm and fuzzy” booklet to new and experienced EMS professionals alike, and would place it before any electrocardiographic tome or trauma manual. It should be on the shelf of everybody who works on an ambulance, period.

Thom Dick is a longtime paramedic, as well as an author and speaker on the EMS circuit, and several years ago he collected many of his favorite topics into People Care: Career-Friendly Practices for Professional Caregivers. This is a paperback book of less than 100 pages, written in a personal and accessible style, and it compellingly lays out Thom’s idea of what this job is all about.

It’s not about job skills, or tips for getting through your shift, although some of these are offered. Rather, it’s really about how to understand your job — what lens you should use to view this whole EMS business. This may not seem especially important; after all, no matter what rose-tinted goggles you buckle on, you’re still going to end up bringing the same patients to the same places in the same ways (and making the same dollars for doing it). True enough. But what about you? Will you be happy doing it? Passionate? Driven? If you start out as those things, will you stay that way, or will you join the ranks of the angry, the apathetic, the disillusioned?

There are a lot of things wrong with this job. Depending on who you ask, and what their priorities are, you might get different lists. But certainly, EMS is an industry with flaws, and the men and women working to improve it should be seen as heroes. But even if things do get better, what will we do in the mean time? Hell, even after they get better, will you be happy? The goggles you wear can turn the best circumstances bad if that’s your attitude.

Thom’s work is the prescription. When we talked about Joe Delaney, I was channeling People Care; Thom’s kind of EMT is someone who views their business as helping the people who call for us, and who asks for no more than that (or less). It’s not a complicated outlook, but I think it is utterly, absolutely essential.

A lot of things are wrong with this job, but if you have the right lifeline, you can survive all of it and more. Thom’s been teaching these ideas for years now, and you might be surprised at how many of your colleagues and coworkers know him personally or have heard him speak. But if, like me, you haven’t been so fortunate, buy his book. Read it. Recommend it. Loan it out — it’s been out of print for years now. And see if it doesn’t bring some of your problems into perspective.

(I am indebted to Peter Canning for originally introducing me to this book, via his blog, Street Watch. Also of note: Steve Whitehead at The EMT Spot is an old coworker of Thom’s, and his site discusses many of these topics in a similar spirit.)


  1. Thanks for the great read. This is definitely something that I am going to have to recommend to those that read my blog at where you can find some very solid information about this occupation and other related professions. I will without a doubt have to make sure that my EMT friends have read this book and if they haven’t, I may actually have to pick them up a copy for them to take a look at it because the way you make it sound, it is an absolute must.


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    People Care – EMS Basics

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