7 Qualities to Have if You Want to Work in Front-Line Emergency Medical Services

Emergency Medical Services

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

No one who enters the healthcare profession can expect it to be very easy. However, there are special challenges associated with working in emergency medical services (EMS), where one’s skills and mindset can spell the difference between life or death. Working in an emergency department or EMS organization can be fulfilling as well as difficult, as EMS staff can see firsthand how their hard work saves people’s lives.

But how prepared are you to work in this demanding field, and what skills or characteristics are needed to be successful as an EMS professional? If you’re considering a career as an ER physician, ER nurse, paramedic, emergency medical technician (EMT), dispatcher, ambulance driver, or another type of emergency responder, here are seven important qualities that you need to have.

Compassion for Others

Arguably, the very first quality that you should have as an EMS professional is compassion for others. This may seem like a given, but considering the difficult nature of the work that you’ll do, it may be easier than you think to lose your cool, to get disillusioned, or to get sidetracked by processes and systems. When that happens, you should always be ready to generate compassion for patients, for your fellow EMS staff, and for yourself.

A Willingness to Work with New Technologies

In the last few years, the field of emergency medicine has been on the receiving end of a number of technological developments. Some pertinent examples include computer-aided dispatch systems (CAD), paramedic scheduling software, and electronic patient care reporting (ePCR) solutions. On top of demonstrating your basic clinical or technical skills, you’ll also need to familiarize yourself with the latest of these healthcare technologies. A willingness to embrace this new technological paradigm—and ultimately, a willingness to work with it for enhanced patient outcomes—is highly necessary for a modern EMS professional.  

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The Ability to Keep Calm Under Pressure

Whether you’re working inside an ER facility, at a dispatch operation center, or behind the wheel of an ambulance, you will always start the day with very high stakes. In emergency response situations, every second matters—and you will definitely feel the stress and pressure to make it count. Knowing this, you should only enter this line of work when you are sure of your composure and your ability to do your work with calmness and precision. When you are already employed, hone your ability to work in high-pressure situations by practicing your skills on a regular basis, attending training, and seeking feedback from your teammates and superiors.

Directness and Assertiveness

EMS professionals should also have good decision-making skills, supplemented by an ability to speak directly and to command authority. In emergency situations like accidents, both the patients and the people around them rely on EMS staff to make the calls and move decisively. Before you enter this profession, evaluate your ability to communicate clearly, as this will serve you well when you need to give instructions or when you have to assign a role to someone else, especially in time-sensitive situations. You should also practice being direct and straightforward in your communication style, as any tentativeness, while you’re doing your job, may result in wasted time or a costly mistake.


One thing you’ll learn outside of medical school, nursing school, or trade school is how often you’ll have to adapt to unpredictable circumstances. Actual emergency situations are often trickier than what you’ve encountered in a controlled environment, and in some instances, you will need to act in a way that’s different from what’s written in your textbooks. You will need to learn how to adapt the basic protocols and systems of emergency response to a variety of situations, involving a variety of people. Thus, as early as now, you should develop the ability to think on your feet and become more flexible in the application of your skillset.  

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The Ability to Work in a Team

Emergency medicine is a field where everyone’s work is interconnected. Everyone who works in EMS has an important role to play in saving a patient’s life and easing them into a proper recovery. This is definitely not the line of work for someone who is a lone wolf, as it requires constant teamwork and regular coordination efforts among people of different disciplines. If you consider yourself a team player and are confident about your ability to sync your work with that of other EMS staff members, then consider yourself a fit to enter this profession.

The Ability to Manage High Stress and Intense Emotion

Lastly, there’s no denying that a career in emergency medicine will demand a lot of emotional investment. It is impossible to not get invested in patients’ health and well-being, and the grief and stress of encountering unfavorable patient outcomes—despite your best efforts—will never really go away. That’s why it’s important to build a strong emotional support system among your friends, family, and peers, and to adopt healthy coping mechanisms to address the emotions involved in your work. It is essential that you know what you’re getting yourself into when you enter this line of work—so that you can prepare yourself to deal with stressful and emotionally intense situations.


While some of these qualities may already be part of you, some may be new and therefore worth exploring and putting into practice. Let this be the start of a prosperous and meaningful career in emergency medicine, and may you demonstrate these qualities for the recovery and betterment of healthcare patients.