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Coping with Fatigue and Shortening EMS Shifts


It is widely understood that when an individual is tired, he or she will not make good decisions.  It has also been found that an individual suffering from extreme exhaustion exhibits symptoms like an individual who is driving under the influence - thus, fatigue is a serious issue that encompasses many different facets of society.

The Argument for Shorter Shifts

When it comes to Emergency Medical Services, this issue is particularly serious because this is when medical and traffic accidents occur - issues that can be particularly serious. One EMS agency, however, is working to change longer shifts to shorter shifts in order to keep patients and their staff safe. Donovan Davis, Director of Emergency Services, expressed his concerns about this the Randolph County Commissioners meeting recently.  Mr. Davis cited that employees were leaving EMS agencies to find 9-5 jobs are shorter shifts.

The Retention Piece

Shorter shifts may create more desirable work conditions, but could also have a direct effect on the retention of good employees in Emergency Medical Services. Mr. Davis' remarks touch on some of the retention problems Emergency Medical Services has been having across the country.  In some areas, it has been difficult to recruit volunteers, and just as Mr. Davis states, it can be difficult to retain good employees if they're unhappy with their work conditions.

Low Wages, Multiple Jobs

While moving to shorter shifts is a very good decision on behalf of an ambulance agency, it can be a difficult decision for an agency, too. Many EMTs and paramedics will work several different jobs to make ends meet because they cannot make ends meet with the wages they're earning from one job alone.  The decision to limit the hours a staff member can work can be detrimental to the financial well-being of the staff - even if it is a good decision for patient care and employee safety.


Moving to shorter shifts certainly is an important decision for an ambulance agency. It encompasses the issues that come from fatigue moving to create more security for patient care and employee safety. It can also have positive impacts on the retention of employees in public safety positions. Financially, there is the potential to create financial burdens for public safety employees. Ultimately, there are many pieces to the retention puzzle and shorter shifts may very well be a step in the right direction across the country.

Allison G. S. Knox Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Allison is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard, and Lifeguard Instructor, and is trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society as Chancellor of the Southeast Region, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She is also a member of several committees including the Editorial Committee with APCO, the Rescue Task Force Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She also serves as Chair of the Leadership Development Program for the 2020 Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention. Allison has published several book reviews and continues to write about issues affecting ambulances, emergency management, and homeland security.