Home Paramedicine/The Job Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmatic in EMS

Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmatic in EMS

Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmatic in EMS
'Reading, writing, and arithmetic? What a great idea. Let me run it by the Superintendent.'

Once upon a time, that phrase was known as “The Three Rs.” It’s archaic, but these days reading and writing seem pretty archaic.

As my regular readers will know, my post field EMS career involves doing a lot of documentation reviews for EMS services. This pays pretty well as a supplement to my pension, but I’m not sure if the potential brain damage from smacking my forehead with my hand is worth it.

The policy of my employer is that we’re not supposed to correct spelling or grammar errors in the narratives of the reports we review. Note that if it were, I’d be unemployed because I’m not exactly a whiz myself. I do, however, know how to use spell check and how to look up medical terms on my Smarter than me Phone.

I also know how to use the “Shift” key on my computer keyboard. Which means that I can capitalize when appropriate. I also know how to use punctuation, although I will admit to writing the occasional run on sentence.

Those are skill which a lot of EMS providers seem to have forgotten or maybe just never learned. A friend of mine blames texting in part for this. He opines that young people spend so much time using abbreviations when they text that they forget how to spell or use punctuation. There might be some truth to that.

When I read some of the reports I can’t help but think of the reaction of doctors and nursesĀ  when they read the same report. “F******g paramedics!” comes to mind.

I also am convinced that when they read these reports those people don’t think much of the medical skills of the medics doing the writing. Not mention what people outside of medicine think.

Ambulance Driver and I have discussed the subject of college requirements for EMS personnel, specifically paramedics. I’ve been pretty consistently skeptical because I don’t see a particularly good Return on Investment (ROI) for most college degrees. I have commented that if people are going to go to college as a career advancement strategy, they should take courses that are outside of EMS. That is, they should look at business management, nursing, or some other major that will give them options outside of the EMS career ladder. That’s because career ladders in EMS are more like step stools. That is, there aren’t many steps on that short ladder.

One thing that I do think should be part of a paramedic degree program is English literacy and mathematics. We often joke about “paramedic math”, because it’s pretty easy. Especially if you memorize the formulas and can just plug numbers in. Still, algebra and geometry are good thing to know.

So is being able to put together a medical narrative that has decent syntax, spelling, and grammar. Which skills don’t seem to be all that prevalent in the reports that I read on a daily basis.

I won’t even comment on some of the wacky “treatments” I see because that’s actually my job. The problem being tha sometimes the sentence structure is so bad that I can’t figure out what the hell the medic was thinking or doing.

Since many paramedic programs are now affiliated with colleges, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to add the literacy and mathematics components. Along with classes on actually showing up to work on time. But, that’s a rant for a different day.

I’ll just add that in retrospect, I should have bit the bullet after paramedic school and gone to nursing school. Again, a topic for another post, but having “RN” after ones name opens up a lot of possibilities.


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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.


  1. Texting has been the downfall of Engrish… PP, when she was a batt chief, constantly bitched at me about the quality of writing of the medics… And the computerized systems didn’t make it any better!

    • I had lunch with a couple of friends of mine who are volunteer EMTs. One is also an RN. Both complained about electronic PCR systems. I know you’ll be shocked, but when the federal government mandated a national EMS database system (NEMSIS), it made it harder to use electronic systems as clinical documents. They recently mandated a new standard, and it has made it nigh impossible to use them for clinical information. Also, not surprisingly, neither the federal government nor the states (which have their own systems) have gleaned any useful knowledge from any of the data. It’s a case of GIGO as people just enter anything to clear the mandatory field so they can finish the report.

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