Chris Kaiser's photo of a truck that brags it's 'staffed by nurses'

When Chris Kaiser, the blogger behind Life Under the Lights went to the Fire Department Instructors’ Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis recently,  he was incensed to find this ambulance emblazoned with the phrase “staffed by nurses”, a ‘slap in the face’, as he called it, to paramedics everywhere.

Many people have commented on this story (our own Podmedic Jamie even addressed it from the nursing perspective over at The Nursing Show), so I won’t go into the issue of professional respect or ‘turf wars’ as so many have described it. My two cents will be just that, a little mention of something I noticed that I think bears consideration.

From this photo, it appears as though this is a patient transfer vehicle and not, strictly speaking, an EMS vehicle. As Chris himself says, its suitability as a 911 truck is limited. If it is meant for transfer only, it’s worth remembering that there are definite perceptions that go along with the unique field of patient transfer. When dealing with transfers of patients with chronic conditions in non-emergent situations,  most people would be more comfortable with a sensitive (female) nurse holding grandma’s hand than a rough-and-tumble (male) paramedic, skilled as he might be. Whether these stereotypes are true or false, wildly unfair or completely accurate, they do stubbornly remain in the public’s eye.

On the other hand, if the lights-and-sirens, bells-and-whistles, call-911-and-you-get-us ambulances with the EKG tracings airbrushed onto their brightly painted sides read “staffed by nurses”, most people would, in a word, freak. Nurses are perceived as caring, kind and medically skilled, but you don’t want them extricating you from your totalled car or trying to get your line in while jostling around in the back of the rig. Even a truck that read “Doctors on Board!” would likely conjure up images of staid and impersonal white coats that don’t really have time for you rather than competent emergency medicine specialists. For most of the general public, 911 means paramedics and nothing else, and thank God for it.

I can’t honestly say whether anyone looking at this vehicle will believe it’s an EMS ambulance, but I doubt it. Whether that’s enough to calm the storm raging in the minds of under-appreciated paramedics, I doubt that too. As always, the only answer to issues like this lies with greater public awareness of paramedicine as a profession and a genuine desire to respect the part each of us plays in the field of emergency medicine.

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