Occupational risk factors in the emergency medical services

Prehosp Disaster Med. 2009 Sep-Oct;24(5):422-9. doi: 10.1017/s1049023x00007251.


Introduction: During a medical emergency, the American public often relies on the expertise of emergency medical technicians (EMTs). These professionals face a number of occupational hazards, and the literature suggests that EMTs are at a greater risk of developing physical and mental stress-related disorders. The purpose of this paper is to systematically examine gaps in the extant literature and to present a theoretically driven conceptual model to serve as a basis for future intervention and research efforts.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was conducted utilizing relevant databases (e.g., PsychInfo, Medline). All empirical articles regarding emergency medical responders were reviewed, but given the limited research available, relevant theoretical and conceptual literature on the constructs of interest in other, related populations also were included. Based on this extensive review, a modification of the stress process model is suggested to explain the relationships among occupational stress exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and high-risk alcohol and other drug use.

Results: Exposure to traumatic events was reported to be between 80% and 100% among EMTs, and rates of PTSD are >20%. High-risk alcohol and drug use rates among other emergency response professionals were reported to be as high as 40%. The proposed model suggests direct linkages between occupationally related stress exposure, including chronic and critical incident stress, PTSD, and high-risk alcohol and other drug use. Social support and personal resources (e.g., coping, locus of control) are proposed to have mediating and moderating influences on the three main constructs, and cohesion is introduced as an important, idiosyncratic influence in this population. The moderating influences of gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, and socioeconomic status, level of training, and years of service are included in the proposed model.

Conclusions: High-risk alcohol and other drug use and post-traumatic symptomatology pose substantial risks for EMTs, and consequently, for the patients they serve. It is imperative that researchers develop and test a theoretically grounded model of risk and protective factors that will guide intervention development and future study. The model suggested in this paper, based on a comprehensive literature review and development of theory, represents a critical first step in the intervention research process.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Medical Technicians*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Workplace*