Ryan Hollingsworth isn't a punch-the-clock kind of guy.
The 28-year-old is a paramedic and training officer at Oglethorpe County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), a job that constantly puts him in new situations.
Why did you get into this line of work? Did you always want to become a paramedic?
I actually never planned to be a paramedic. After high school I knew I wanted to work in health care but was unsure in what way. I was a Certified Nursing Assistant for two years and knew I wanted more. At the age of 20, I was planning to go to nursing school. A requirement for the school I wanted to attend was that I had to shadow a nurse for 24 hours (or two shifts). I just felt like it wasn’t me. I then went home and looked up other healthcare fields and found EMS (emergency medical services). I applied for EMT school at Athens Technical College and have never looked back.
I realize now that the reason EMS has been great for me is because of routine — or lack of. I never wanted to be the person who “punched the clock every day” and did the same thing. Every day in EMS is different, and at the beginning of every shift you never know how your day will turn out.
What does a typical day look like?
Every day and every call is different. There is no such thing as a routine in EMS. The only thing that is routine is I arrive at work at 7:45 every third day. Once I arrive at work, my partner and I check our ambulance to prepare for our shift. Once done with checking off our ambulance, we hang out and wait for a call. Every day is different. Some days we get our first call while checking off the truck, and some days we may not get our first call until lunch time. While waiting for a call, we do training, we watch TV and sometimes we just sit around the table with our coworkers.
We work 24 hours and are off for 72. This differs from service to service. Some places work 12-hour shifts and you’re off every other weekend. In some places, you work four, 10-hour shifts.
What do you like most about your job? And least?
I love how unpredictable EMS is. I also really love helping people. We see people in their weakest and darkest times. In EMS, we get to help change people’s lives and even sometimes save their lives. In EMS we see all things from birthing a baby to end-of-life care.
What are the most common misconceptions about being a paramedic?
As a paramedic I get asked questions all the time that address the biggest misconceptions. Here are a few answers.
1. There is no such thing as an “ambulance” driver. Every person who works on an ambulance team is at least an EMT.
2. We take turns being in the back and driving. There are a few times when this is not true, like when there is an EMT and a paramedic in the same ambulance.
3. EMTs are trained at the basic level to do the job. Emergency medical service is a series of stepping stones, and you must go to school for each level: EMT, Advanced EMT and paramedic. Paramedics are the highest trained in EMS. Paramedics learn in-depth about the heart and body. Paramedics handle all sorts of emergency situations before the patient gets to the hospital.
4. We cannot use our lights and sirens whenever we want. We only use our lights and sirens when necessary and when someone’s life is at stake.
5. We run all kinds of calls. We birth babies, we see people who are having a stroke or heart attack, we see people in major car wrecks. But we also take people who have stomachaches, backaches and some who just need to see a doctor.
6. We do not make “more money” for taking someone to the hospital. We are all paid by the hour, so to us, it makes no financial matter if you go to the hospital or not.
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?
That you must be mindful of your surroundings and you should do simple workouts to keep your muscles in shape. There is a lot of lifting involved in EMS. I also wish I knew how great of a community the EMS profession is — everybody is family.
What are some of the risks and rewards of being a paramedic?
Working on an ambulance is full of ups and downs. You’re surrounded by death; you see things you will never unsee. With that being said, the feeling of having a hand in saving someone’s life completely outweighs all the negatives.
Another reward is once you are in EMS, your family grows significantly. I see my partner a third of my life! We spend holidays together and hang out outside of work. We all look out for each other just like we are blood relatives.
How did you train to become a paramedic?
EMS is a series of stepping stones.
You must go to school or classes to become an EMT. Most EMT classes are around 150 hours or one semester, and one of the requirements is that you do ride-along time in an ambulance.
The second stepping stone is advanced EMT. You must go to classes or school to become an advanced EMT. This is normally 150 hours or one semester and a minimum of 100 hours of ride-along time.
To become a paramedic, you must have finished your advanced EMT and then complete some basic core classes at school — English, math, anatomy, etc. Then you go to school for one to 1.5 years and complete a minimum of 550 ride-along hours.
Can you describe one particular day on the job that gave you real satisfaction?
I was working one day, and we got a call for an 18-year-old female not breathing, possibly overdosed on an unknown substance. When we arrived, we found the father performing CPR on the female. We determined she was not breathing, and she did not have a heartbeat. We began and continued CPR on her. Within five minutes she had a heartbeat but was not breathing. We began to breathe for her with our supplies.
I suspected that she had overdosed on some type of opioid and administered a medication to reverse the side effects of the opioid. She began breathing on her own and we transported her to the hospital. After we arrived at the hospital, she was able to talk and was back to normal. She took my hand and thanked me for saving her life, she told me that she had just found out she was pregnant and that her boyfriend had left her. She did not know what she was going to do and had decided to harm herself. I told her that I was always here to listen.
2020 made four years sober for this woman, and I hear from her often. Every time I see her and her child, I get reminded that I not only saved one life that day, I changed the lives of multiple people. I saved her life and her daughter’s life, but I also made a difference in her mother and father’s lives, and her whole family.
This is why I do what I do.