Showing appreciation for emergency support workers: National EMS Week

Medically reviewed by Bobbi Jo Stoner, LPC
Updated March 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Emergency Medical Services Week, or National EMS Week occurs from May 21st through May 27th, 2023. The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) organizes the week to celebrate EMS professionals and their impact on society worldwide. During this week and throughout the year, consider showing appreciation to EMS professionals in your life. 

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What are emergency medical services (EMS) workers? 

EMS stands for "emergency medical services." EMS workers like emergency medical technicians and paramedics may work in an ambulance and provide EMS services and rapid emergency response to those involved in life-threatening emergencies, such as health and medical crises, accident, mass casualty events, or natural disasters. 

In some cases, healthcare’s front-line workers, such as fire departments and nurses, are considered EMS workers. However, these workers have their own celebratory weeks and theme days, like Fire Prevention Week, Firefighter Appreciation Day, and Nurses Week. EMS Safety Day (EMSC Day) is another celebratory day for these workers. 

Health care front-line workers, such as EMS professionals, receive specialized training in emergency care and specialize in providing emergency medicine and triage to keep people alive en route to a hospital or urgent care facility. They may also provide specific emergency medicine and procedures before a patient arrives at a doctor. Thanks to EMS professionals and emergency departments, emergency care and health, safety, and intervention begin the moment the EMS professionals and rescue squads arrive on the scene. These life-saving rescue procedures can include but are not limited to the following: 

  • CPR 
  • Artificial ventilation 
  • Defibrillation 
  • Bone immobilization 
  • Vital sign checks 
  • Bandaging, splinting, and wound care
  • Emergency medication administration, such as allergy medication  
  • Airway management 
  • Oxygen application 

They may not provide IV lines, certain medications, intubation, or surgical procedures. A paramedic, a type of EMS worker, often performs these procedures. However, not all EMS personnel are paramedics, as paramedics require further schooling and training and may also be nurses or doctors. 

The history of National EMS Week 

National EMS Week was authorized in 1974 by President Gerald Ford. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and NAEMT lead the week and play significant in establishing EMS week activities by offering EMS awareness and education events to celebrate EMS practitioners and their impact. EMSC Day and EMS Week are held in the third week of May. On May 24th, Emergency Medical Services for Children Day is celebrated. 

This event is different from the annual National EMS Memorial Service, the once-yearly memorial service to honor the important contributions of fallen EMS practitioners. The National EMS Memorial Service is a weekend-long event celebrating fallen EMS practitioners. This year, award ceremonies will be held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, from July 21 to 23.

In 2023, the event calendar for National EMS Week activities will include the following: 

  • Sunday: Health, Wellness, and Resilience Day 
  • Monday: EMS Education Day
  • Tuesday: Safety Tuesday
  • Wednesday: EMS for Children's Day 
  • Thursday: Save-A-Life-Day (CPR & Stop the Bleed) 
  • Friday: EMS Recognition Day 

Historically, the week has celebrated the impact of EMS workers on their local communities and has brought awareness to the risks and rewards of the career path beyond the call. 

How to celebrate this day 

You can celebrate EMS week and raise public awareness by learning how EMS practitioners save lives, donating to your local EMS team, purchasing EMS week gifts, and considering donating blood. As an EMS worker, you might celebrate the day by thanking fellow employees, taking time off the clock to practice self-care, using EMS Week planning kits, and considering mental health treatment for yourself.

The impact of EMS workers 

EMS workers can have several impacts on our nation's communities, including the following. 

Saving lives

When an emergency support worker arrives at the scene of a crime, accident, or other emergency, they may coordinate with first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and other medical workers to determine the risk of the situation. If anyone is wounded or in critical condition, they will work quickly to gather supplies and assess the individual's health. 

Multiple teams of medical professionals could be sent to the scene depending on the 911 call and the information given to a dispatcher. In the case of a cardiac event, EMS workers may transfer a patient to a hospital cart and perform CPR or defibrillation to restart the heart or revive the patient. In these cases, the emergency medical services team may save an individual's life before they reach the hospital. It’s why EMS professionals are credited with saving so many lives. 

EMS workers may also respond to the following types of emergencies: 

  • Allergic reactions 
  • Traffic accidents 
  • Domestic violence altercations*
  • Crimes where a survivor is in critical medical condition
  • Cardiac or respiratory events 
  • Life-threatening wounds or home accidents 
  • Search and rescue 
  • Wilderness rescue 
  • Life-threatening illness 
  • Natural disasters 
  • Infectious diseases
  • Broken bones 
  • Head, neck, and spinal injuries 
  • Drownings
  • Emergency childbirth 
  • Emergency medication administration
  • Mental health emergencies   

*If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat

Whether a situation is life-threatening or not, an emergency worker can often prevent or minimize the risk of further harm or injury through the procedures administered onsite. They can also transfer patients to an ambulance and accompany them to the hospital if necessary for monitoring. 

Mental health screening

EMS workers may respond to mental health emergencies, as well. For example, they may be called to rescue a survivor of a suicide attempt or accompany someone to emergency mental health treatment at a local psychiatric or psychological hospital or treatment center. They can also respond to situations pertaining to eating disorders, panic attacks, paranoia, psychosis, and other mental health symptoms. In some cases, they may provide life-saving care for a self-harm injury. 

Additionally, EMS workers may respond to medical emergencies caused by substance use. Overdose, alcohol poisoning, and intoxication can harm health and well-being. On scene, an emergency worker may provide life-saving medication to reverse the impact of an overdose or transport an individual to services. If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive immediate support and resources.

Some individuals may call 911 in a mental health crisis, even if their lives are not presently in danger. In these cases, EMS may still respond to the scene and take a quick mental health screening of the patient. If the individual reports suicide or self-harm risk, they might still opt to be taken to the hospital for further mental health support. If EMS believes the individual may be experiencing panic attack symptoms, they might also offer hospital transport or refer the patient to other community resources. 

EMS1 states that empathy and active listening can be essential skills for an EMS worker responding to a mental health crisis. Although individuals might feel frustrated to be called to a scene where a life-threatening emergency is not occurring, the patient who called 911 might feel that their life is at risk and may not understand the resources available to them. Being treated with kindness and not being impacted by mental health stigma can help individuals feel confident in reaching out for support in other areas that can help them, such as therapy or rehabilitation. They may also raise awareness of other resources in the area for those who require them. 

Ways to show appreciation 

During National EMS Week, show your appreciation to emergency workers through the following methods. 

Thank an EMS worker

If you know someone in your life who works in emergency medical services, thank them for the way they support your community. Recent studies show that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in EMTs and EMS workers is approximately 22%. These workers may witness scenes that are traumatic or challenging to view or take part in. Many risk their lives and work long hours to shield others from harm and save the lives of people in their community. Thanking them can show them that you notice their contribution and appreciate what they do for others. 

Send care packages

Contact your local EMS agencies to find out if you can send care packages to the workers. These packages could include thank you notes, t-shirts, a small homemade gift, a mental health resources list, handmade treats, or comfortable socks. Personalize your care packages as you see fit. 

Become an EMS worker

If you believe you would benefit from working as an EMS and saving lives, you might also consider becoming an EMT. The classes to become an EMT can vary by state and county, so reach out to your local emergency health department to find out how to start. You may be required to take several courses, tests, and classes. Some EMS workers, like paramedics, may also be required to have a medical or nursing degree. 

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Mental health support for EMS workers

Although EMS workers often offer life-saving support to others, the job can have demands that may feel traumatic, scary, or mentally taxing. As many EMTs are diagnosed with PTSD, finding mental health support can be as essential as offering it to those you provide care to. If you're an EMS worker or another type of first responder, consider reaching out to a therapist for support. 

If you have a busy schedule or struggle to make time for a commute to a therapist's office, you can also consider online therapy, which can be done from home at a time that works best with your work schedule. You can also choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions with your licensed therapist. Studies on internet-based treatment modalities found that online therapy for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms was highly effective and had low drop-out rates compared to in-person therapy. Additionally, the treatment group showed a significant reduction in adverse mental health symptoms as well as in co-morbid depression and anxiety related to their traumatic event(s).

If you're interested in taking advantage of counseling online, consider signing up through a platform like BetterHelp. Even if you are not an emergency worker, BetterHelp and other platforms offer opportunities for therapists with experience in various mental health and wellness areas.  

Takeaway

National EMS Week pays homage to the heroic and life-saving acts of kindness that emergency responders often offer to their communities when rising to the challenge of an emergency. You can celebrate this day by thanking an EMT in your life, reading local media stories about first responders, offering gifts or lunches to workers in your area, or reaching out for mental healthcare if you are an EMS provider. If you are struggling with symptoms of PTSD, know that you are not alone. Consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance and support.
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