It's not uncommon for Karen Kramer to get a call at night that there's been an emergency, arrive on the scene as an Emergency Medical Technician to help stabilize a patient, ride with them to Riverside Walter Reed Hospital's Emergency Department and then, on particularly busy nights, instead of handing them off to the nurses and physicians there, walk right in and continue treatment…and she's not alone. Kramer, a Registered Nurse who, in addition to working in the Emergency Department and serving on the Board of Directors for Gloucester Volunteer Fire &Rescue was awarded the Regional Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Award for Nurse With Outstanding Contribution to EMS in 2013. She is one of several Riverside team members who not only give back to the community through their jobs in emergency medicine, but also volunteer their time and skills. They are, as the theme of this year's National EMS Week states, dedicated for life. This week (May 18-24) marks National EMS Week.
Kramer is among the nearly 35,000 EMS providers who work in Virginia alone, according to the Virginia Department of Health. There are 673 volunteer, state and commercial emergency response agencies that employ or use the volunteer services of, among other positions and specialties, first responders, EMTs, paramedics, emergency operations instructors and physicians. "National Emergency Medical Services Week brings together local communities and medical personnel to publicize safety and honor the dedication of those who provide the day-to-day lifesaving services of medicine's front line," according to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). ACEP helps promote the national recognition week in part because it was instrumental in establishing EMS Week in 1974.
"Day after day, we see the tireless efforts of first responders as they work together to respond to emergency situations and provide care to the sick and wounded," Virginia's Office of Emergency Medical Services writes on its web site. "Their dedication pushed them to work long hours, weekends and holidays, often taking time away from their family to respond to calls for help. Their daily tasks are enduring and their life-saving efforts are heroic."
In recent years, the role of EMS has become even more vital, Kramer said. "We've seen the EMS and ER getting busier and busier as our population has grown and patients have gotten sicker," Kramer said. Kramer credits the ability to keep up with the increase in need to the dedication of volunteers. "These volunteers here are very, very dedicated," Kramer said. "We're talking about a minimum of 12 hours a week that people are volunteering for no pay. They are doing it just to take care of our community. That's commendable." Especially when you consider the level of training required for these volunteer duties. After four years of working as an ER nurse at Walter Reed and nearly a year of working as an EMT on the Middle Peninsula, Jennifer Tietjen is taking it a step further and training to be a paramedic.
"An EMT really is basic life support, stabilizing patients after accidents and things of that sort," she said. "They cannot start IVs or give medications. Paramedic does not have to ask permission. They use their medical judgment and function as the physician in the field and under the physician's license." Tietjen doesn't call it dedication, although she is. She says it makes her a better nurse and better able to help the community. "You can do any other field of nursing or you can do emergency medicine," she said. "There is nothing else I could do that would take me away from my children for so many hours at a time. Emergency medicine is a calling."