A paramedic is trained to administer medical care to those injured or ill outside a hospital setting. While this idea may sound normal today, in the past medical attention was typically provided at the location of dedicated doctors.
As populations became denser and technology advanced, providing emergency medical care on the way to hospitals became a viable option. Paramedics are a crucial part of society today, but how and when did these lifesaving medical professionals start?
Pre-20th Century Practice
Paramedics did not exist in name before the late 1960s, but there was some form of medical care outside of hospitals in many societies.
In ancient Rome, centurions who had become a liability due to age were in charge of tending to the wounded by removing them from the battlefield and giving them medical treatment.
A similar style of medical treatment emerged during the crusades with the Knights Hospitaller (also called The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem). This organization would become St. John’s Ambulance and the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps, both comprised of volunteers who administer first aid.
Another advancement occurred when the bubonic plague struck London. Local communities banded together to provide medical care for the sick before they could see a doctor.
The American Civil war also saw soldiers receive field medical training. These veterans would return to their communities and work with the police department, fire department, and funeral directors, who often possessed the only vehicle capable of transporting a person lying down.
The idea of providing emergency medical care before a patient can see a professional is not new, but it has developed over the centuries to apply to larger communities and with more training.
Birth of the Modern Paramedic
The 20th century brought about many changes to society with the rise of electricity and new technologies. The automobile was significant because it allowed more accessible transportation of the sick or injured to a hospital while being provided medical care.
This type of care emerged in the 1960s in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Toronto, Canada. However, it ran into issues because of a lack of manageable equipment, such as the defibrillator and heart monitor being too large to use properly.
In 1966, a report was published titled Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society. This report, more commonly called The White Paper, identified that one of the leading causes of death in society was that people did not receive medical treatment fast enough after sustaining an injury.
According to the report, a soldier receiving a wound on a battlefield had a better chance of survival than someone injured in a car accident.
The result of these findings was federal support for improving the standards of non-hospital medical care. The emergency ambulance service was created, training programs were implemented, and emergency medicine became a top priority nationwide. States faced two options from the federal government: adopt ambulance safety standards or lose funding.
Paramedic training became a nationwide phenomenon, and a national standard emerged. Paramedic education programs developed across America and led to improved emergency medical treatment.
Improvements in the Late 20th Century
The initial idea of paramedics and ambulances was to keep those who sustained injuries alive while transporting them to the hospital. As technology developed in the 1970s and 1980s, the focus became administering on-site medical treatment.
With improved technology, states began to focus more on training paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). In 1970, the National Registry of EMTs (NREMT) was formed in response to the recommendation of the Committee of Highway Traffic Safety. This organization established national standards for EMTs and paramedics that are recognized in every state. Forty-six states use the National Registry certification for licensure.
As mobile medical technology improved, so did the standards required to operate it. The scope of practice for most shifted, with a division occurring between an EMT and paramedic.
Standards continue to evolve in the paramedic profession. Different exams and equipment emerge, requiring paramedics to pursue continuing education to stay up-to-date with new terminology and industry practices.
The rise of the internet in the late 20th century made information more readily available and set the agenda for the future of paramedics. By sharing information across the internet, health professionals in the United States and worldwide benefited.
The Modern Paramedic
Being a paramedic has become a full-time profession for many people rather than the volunteer service it started as. Requiring thousands of hours of training, years of education, and paying fees to obtain the necessary licenses and certification.
As time passed, the standards reached a level that volunteering could no longer suffice. Paramedics had to be held to higher standards to operate the equipment and assess medical emergencies properly.
With modern technology and training, paramedics are prepared to save lives at the scene of the accident. The EMS education agenda has ensured that only professionals work these jobs as someone’s life is in danger. It is certainly harder than ever to be a paramedic, but the quality of paramedics has increased.
Paramedics and Pop Culture
As with any profession, pop culture brings to light career concerns and how difficult or important a job can be. Since the first formal introduction of a standard for paramedics in 1970, dozens of shows have featured them.
The popularity of these shows, often overly fictitious, shows how interested people are in the paramedic profession. Some popular shows based on the experiences of paramedics include:
Debuting in 1972, Emergency! starred two men working as both paramedics and firefighters in Los Angeles. Only two years removed from the founding of paramedics as a profession, people were still unsure what being a paramedic meant.
The show’s popularity allowed it to run for five seasons until 1977 and taught people the dangers and importance of early paramedics.
Premiering in 1999, there was a general lull in pop culture content around emergency services after Emergency! ended in 1977. Centered around all emergency services in New York City, the show followed what went on from the 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift, or the “third watch.”
The show came together because many people working in emergency services wanted to broadcast their professions to a wider audience but felt that their profession alone was not enough material. Combining all emergency services, they managed to put together enough material for an entire TV show.
Third Watch ran from 1999-2005 and gained a large amount of popularity following 9-11. The show interviewed emergency service workers who took part in the aftermath of 9-11, winning awards and helping people understand what was going on.
Sirens, 9-1-1, Station 19
After the success of Third Watch, the market was flooded with emergency service content. The public took an interest in stories based on real-life events, and ratings flourished.
Many of the shows are still ongoing, and the natural drama surrounding the profession makes for suspenseful storytelling. Paramedics are now a well-known and appreciated part of our culture.
Review of Paramedic History
The history of emergency medical services is long, but the idea of devoting your life to it rather than a volunteer job has only existed for just over 50 years. Thanks to modern media, people understand what it means to be a paramedic and how important the job has become.
Because of their significance, many companies offer discounts to those in emergency services. Freedom Fatigues also partners with first responder non-profit organizations to give back to the community by donating a portion of our net profit to organizations like Call for Backup and First H.E.L.P.
Call for Backup is a campaign designed to end the stigma around suicide and mental health issues that result from high-pressure job stresses experienced by first responders. The organization runs training programs to help first responders understand how their job affects their mental health and how to manage feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
First H.E.L.P. is an organization focused on reducing the mental health stigma around first responders. They offer educational resources, advocate for benefits for responders experiencing PTSD, and bring awareness to suicide and mental health issues.
Freedom Fatigues has collaborated with First H.E.L.P. to create a line of t-shirts that help you show your support for this incredible organization. A percentage of each sale goes to First H.E.L.P. so they can continue to support our nation’s frontline heroes.