Oct 24, 2023

3.5 investments for the new EMT that are worth every penny

Critical Clinical Concepts

A short list of gadgets and gear that can have a big impact on how you operate

As a new EMT, you’re often pulled and swayed in multiple directions right out of the gate. Buy this gadget to help you do "this!" Buy this widget to do better at "that!" At the end of the day – and beginning of your career – here's a short listing of some "worth every penny" recommendations to invest your money in as a new EMT.

Let's take a second to compile the costs of the attachments on your belt, items in your pockets and gadgets stuffed into your duffel bag. How much does it all add up to? More importantly, which items have truly produced a positive return on investment – are truly worth every penny?

As a new EMT working in a busy, urban 911 environment or a slower, rural volunteer setting, the first little bit that you invest your money into can have a big impact on how you operate. Without having hundreds of calls under your belt to base an opinion from, feel free to take my advice (and leverage my nearly 20 years of experience in urban and rural settings as both a career and volunteer EMS provider).

I believe this recommendation list is a universal one that applies to all EMTs, which includes EMTs that later become paramedics. So, before we start talking about stethoscopes and laminating machines (yes, a laminating machine!) for paramedics, let's look at the basic level applying to EMTs (and even emergency medical responders).

Regardless of the environment that you intend to work in, you’re inevitably going to walk into or through something unclean, and you’re going to need to clean your footwear.

Standing water just outside of the crashed car on the side of the road, knee-high snow as you walk off of the sidewalk path, or even mud, blood, emesis or other fluids as you walk toward your patient will get on your boots. I say boots because there's not much need for traditional shoes in the EMS environment, but there is for waterproof boots. Invest your money into a pair of black boots that you can spray off, wipe down, and don't mind keeping your feet covered in throughout the duration of your shift. Waterproof, bloodborne pathogen resistant, safety-toed and non-leather (because leather fades and scuffs if you don't regularly care for it), would be my ultimate EMS boot recommendation. But, at the very least, invest in some boots that will keep your feet dry after you step into a pothole full of water.

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Breaking down some light-hearted and professionally-serious tips to start and build a successful career in EMS

Never rely on the mandatory flashlight inside of your ambulance because – in many instances – it's either the size of a small baseball bat or requires a shoulder strap to keep out of your way, and as Murphy's law persists, it will be dead whenever you really need it! Instead, stick with a AAA-battery (because AAA batteries are a common size to find) flashlight that has a 90-degree handle with belt clip. Investing in this traditional turnout coat-style flashlight affords you the ability to carry your flashlight on your waist belt, have it secured to your jacket, and is ergonomically easy to hold and shine in any direction. You should never need to hold a flashlight by your teeth and a penlight simply doesn't do the trick when you actually need to see in the dark. Buying – and carrying this flashlight with you all of the time – will make you one of the most prepared EMTs on any scene (because when you need a flashlight now, two minutes from now does no one any good).

Keep your smart watch at home and invest (and by "invest," I mean no more than $25) in a digital watch with a seconds feature in a big, bold font. Make sure that you’re comfortable with holding this watch under running water and wiping it clean with a disinfecting wipe after every shift, as this should become your standard practice. This means no cloth or parachute cord bands ... just a simple washable material with a standard clasp. After all, this watch should be designed for purpose, not fashion.

I give this a "0.5" rating because it may not apply to everyone out there, but for those in snow country, it certainly does! It's unlikely that your employer will supply you with winter gloves or even a winter hat, so splurge a little bit and invest in some thin gloves that you can slide medical gloves over the top of, and a plain-colored winter hat that will keep your ears warm as you maintain spinal motion restriction or splint an extremity on your fall patient during whatever frigid-temperature season looks like for you (this is subjective, as "frigid" for me – a Wisconsinite – is below 20 degrees, while "frigid" in Florida – where I lived for a year – is anything below 60 degrees). Once again, make an investment here, but don't spend more than a few bucks, as you may have to part ways with these items if they become contaminated. Keep them in your coat pockets so they’re ready to be used and stay warm – because there's nothing worse than not feeling the tips of your own fingers when you need to use your hands the most.

This seems like an obvious item to invest in ... right? Yes, for a paramedic. As an EMT, however, your money can best be spent on these other items, first, before you break open your wallet on a $100-plus set of "ears." This by no means implies that you shouldn't have access to a high-quality stethoscope. For the purpose that many EMTs use a stethoscope in the field, spending upwards of $50 seems reasonable – if you want your own stethoscope to carry. Beyond this, however, I would recommend spending your money on other items that will prove more purposeful in the beginning.

Looking at this from the angle of a new paramedic, I would certainly recommend a bit more expensive stethoscope (planning on $150-250), as well as a laminating machine ... but that's an article for another time.

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Tim is the founder and CEO of Emergency Medical Solutions, LLC, an EMS training and consulting company that he developed in 2010. He has nearly two decades of experience in the emergency services industry, having worked as a career firefighter, paramedic and critical care paramedic in a variety of urban, suburban, rural and in-hospital environments. His background includes nearly a decade of company officer and chief officer level experience, in addition to training content delivery and program development spanning his entire career. He is experienced in EMS operations, community paramedicine, quality assurance, data management, training, special operations and administration disciplines, and holds credentials as both a supervising and managing paramedic officer.

Tim also has active experience as a columnist and content developer with over 200 published works and over 100 hours of education content available online, and is a social media influencer on LinkedIn within the EMS industry. Connect with him on LinkedIn or at [email protected].

1. Waterproof boots 2. A 90-degree flashlight 3. Digital watch 3.5) Winter gloves and hat (in snow country, at least) Why not a stethoscope?