“I got bit by the EMS bug” is a common expression for emergency medical technicians like Kristen Soule, who works for Ambulance Service Inc, in Breckenridge, Minnesota.
Soule, 31, began her career working front desk night audit at a hotel, then found a job as a production assistant at a local TV station. She bounced to a secretary position for a trucking company, then took a job as a debt collector amid the pandemic. It didn’t last long, she said.
“I realized I could not do anything that didn’t help people,” Soule said.
Soule decided to pursue an EMT training program in December 2020. She had helped run street medic crews during the George Floyd protests in Fargo, North Dakota, earlier that year. The street medics helped address minor injuries and pass out water. Their main goal was to circumvent the need for a Fargo-Moorhead ambulance crew to be called out for minor incidents like heat exhaustion or basic first aid.
“It was some way I could help give back to my community,” Soule said.
Somebody suggested she look into EMT training. The certification process ran from January to May and included online classes and in-person lab. Toward the end of the semester, the trainees participated in ride alongs. The experiences she had during the ride alongs convinced Soule she had made the right decision.
Soule said being an EMT suits the way her brain works. She was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and the high-energy, always-changing environment of an emergency medical job fit just right.
After earning her certification, Soule took a job with Ambulance Service Inc. Having trained in a more urban setting, starting work in a rural area was a new and exciting challenge. The primary difference is in travel time. Her farthest patients are as much as 40 miles away.
“I enjoy it. You get a lot broader of a scope with rural calls than you do with what I’ve seen on ride alongs,” Soule said.
While she loves the job, it is not without difficulties. Knowing that sometimes she’ll lose a patient is the hardest aspect of EMT work. But helping save a patient or getting them the help they need also leaves an impact.
Soule said the call that hit her the hardest was during one of her ride alongs. A 14-year-old girl was suicidal; she was the same age as Soule’s stepdaughter.
“It hit home, it hurts. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and I’ve been there and it hurts my heart. I’m glad the kid was able to get the help she needs, but at the same time I know so many aren’t able to,” Soule said.
Media and entertainment tend to skew people’s perception of EMS work, Soule said. The real job is nothing like the movies, and EMTs do not just drive the ambulance.
At a scene, Soule helps take vital signs and does whatever she can to assist the paramedic. A common saying in the field is “The paramedic takes care of the patient, the EMT takes care of the paramedic,” Soule said.
Soule said her three biggest pieces of medical advice based on what she has seen are to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle, treat mental health as just as important as physical health and give chest compressions because they are the best way to give someone in cardiac arrest a fighting chance.
Soule has considered going back to school to earn a paramedic certification, the highest level of pre-hospital care. Whether she remains an EMT or pursues the next level up, she knows she is in the right place.
“Either way, I definitely want to keep working in EMS,” she said.