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The 10 books every paramedic should own

As a medic you are a caregiver and a human body mechanic, not a parts replacer; educate yourself like one


Inspirational and educational books can impact your EMS career and help you grow as a professional

Photo/Greg Friese

鈥淚鈥檓 about to start EMT/AEMT/Medic/CCT class, and I鈥檇 like to get a head start. What books should I be reading?鈥

I get that question a lot, and while it is tempting to put my book at the top of the list (I鈥檓 still saving for that swanky double-wide I鈥檝e always dreamed about), I鈥檓 going to play this straight and recommend books, both inspirational and educational, that have had an impact on my career.

I鈥檓 also donning my flame-retardant underoos in anticipation of the inevitable backlash at the books I鈥檝e chosen to include and those I left off the list. So, without further ado, I give you Kelly鈥檚 Totally Subjective and Opinionated List of Books Every EMT Should Read, in no particular order. The first five are for all levels of providers, and the last five are best suited to medics, but remember there is no ceiling on how much you can learn.

1. Your textbook

But not for what is in it. No, you want this textbook as a frame of reference for everything that isn鈥檛 in it. You鈥檒l want to update this textbook for every new edition that is released, not only to keep you abreast of evolving standards of EMS education but to remind you of how far we still have to come.

Odds are, that textbook was written at an 8th-grade reading level if you鈥檙e in EMT class, and a 10th-grade level if you鈥檙e in paramedic school. And since most of them are on a five-year revision cycle, a good deal of the information in it is already outdated or disproven by emerging science by the time it actually appears in print.

So remind yourself of that every time some cretin defends an outdated practice because it was in their textbook, or rejects current science because it wasn鈥檛 in the book.

2. Thom Dick鈥檚 鈥淧eople Care鈥

When I started to write about EMS, some of the most common feedback I got was how obvious it was that my writing was influenced by Thom Dick.

I鈥檒l confess something: I didn鈥檛 read 鈥People Care鈥 until earlier this year. Now I wish it had been around when I started in EMS. I鈥檇 have been a better caregiver, with emphasis on the care. I had read Thom鈥檚 columns, but after so many people telling me, 鈥淚t鈥檚 like Thom Dick says鈥" and an 鈥渁ttaboy鈥 email from Thom himself that I actually printed and saved, I figured I鈥檇 see what the fuss was about.

There is a plethora of source material out there on the science of EMS and emergency care, but precious few on the art of it. I discovered on my own that the difference between a good medic and a great one is the compassion and humanity he brings to the application of his technical skills. Had I read Thom鈥檚 book, I鈥檇 have made that discovery much earlier.

The central message of 鈥淧eople Care鈥 can be summed up by a Teddy Roosevelt quote that many people attribute to Thom because it sounds so much like him: 鈥淣o one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.鈥

I鈥檓 not sure a book can teach you compassion and people skills that aren鈥檛 already part of who you are, but Thom Dick鈥檚 book certainly illustrates why they鈥檙e so important.

3. Any anatomy and physiology textbook that isn鈥檛 written for EMS

Go to a college bookstore, ask them where they keep their nursing or medical textbooks, and pick the thickest, most intimidating one you can find, preferably one with good illustrations and big, hard-to-understand words. Avoid the anatomy coloring books and EMS A&P books that are simply watered-down versions of better texts because of the publisher鈥檚 aforementioned dim opinion on the reading comprehension skills of the average EMT student.

Don鈥檛 limit yourself to the insipid anatomy coloring books and the required texts in your abbreviated, oversimplified only-what-you-need-to know paramedic A&P class. In fact, you should view with extreme skepticism any course or instructor who purports to teach you only what you need to know, because all too often, that translates to, 鈥淚 didn鈥檛 understand all those big words either and look at me now, I鈥檓 a paramedic instructor!鈥

Believe me, you don鈥檛 want to follow that guy鈥檚 advice.

To diagnose what is wrong, and to fix what is broken, you have to know how the human body works. EMS anatomy textbooks are the equivalent of the parts catalog at a major auto parts retailer. They鈥檙e good for teaching the ignorant, pimply-faced kid behind the counter how to find a part 鈥 which may or may not be the one you need 鈥 but they don鈥檛 make him a competent mechanic.

You鈥檙e not a parts replacer, you鈥檙e a human body mechanic. Educate yourself like one.

4. 鈥Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine鈥 by Peter Canning, or 鈥Rescuing Providence鈥 by Michael Morse

Too many of the EMS novels out there are of the 鈥淟ook at me, I鈥檓 a hero!鈥 variety, and rarely give an unbiased look at the real practice of EMS. Either they paint their central characters in an unrealistically flattering light, or they fall victim to the tropes so common in the EMS genre: every call is life or death, and lives hang in the balance, courageously saved from the reaper鈥檚 scythe by those stalwart men and women of EMS.

Picture Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-d没m, only dressed in EMS action adventure pants, wielding a laryngoscope, defiantly shouting, 鈥淵oooouuu shall not coooooode!鈥

Yeah, not exactly real life.

Plus, most of those authors are paramedics, not writers, and it shows. Michael Morse and Peter Canning are those rare medics who actually possess serious writing chops. If you鈥檙e contemplating a career in EMS, read their books. They鈥檙e a realistic, warts-and-all peek into the lives (and in 鈥Rescuing Providence,鈥 one 24-hour shift) of EMS providers; calls good and bad, tragic and triumphant, silly and sublime, without any sugarcoating.

5. Steve Berry鈥檚 鈥I Am Not An Ambulance Driver鈥 series

Every medic needs to laugh now and then, and Steve captures the cultural zeitgeist of EMS perfectly in his cartoons. I have always held the opinion that EMS is far too serious a subject to take seriously. If that sounds contradictory to you, then you need to read Steve鈥檚 books. You鈥檒l find yourself snorting with laughter, while the non-EMS people look over your shoulder and wonder what you find so riotously funny. Occasionally, they鈥檒l invoke a tear as well, and that鈥檚 fine. Every panel serves to help empty out that grief box we hide under the bed and pretend doesn鈥檛 exist. It鈥檚 just good therapy.

6. A good cardiology textbook

And no, I鈥檓 not talking 鈥Basic Arrhythmias.鈥 There is nothing wrong with Gail Walraven鈥檚 book, but you need to pay attention to the first word in the title: basic. Any competent paramedic student should be well beyond the basics before graduation. Generations of medical students learned cardiology from Dale Dubin鈥檚 鈥Rapid Interpretation of ECG鈥檚,鈥 and that鈥檚 a good start, as is Mike Taigman鈥檚 鈥Advanced Cardiology in Plain English.鈥

But any competent medic these days needs to be well-versed in 12-lead ECG interpretation, and not just the relatively narrow scope of STEMI recognition. Get yourself one or all of the following excellent books:

7. Tintinalli鈥檚 Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide

The hardcover 9th edition costs $248 on Amazon.

Worth. Every. Penny.

Judith Tintinalli鈥檚 book has been for years the most widely used and well-regarded text and reference in emergency medicine, and for good reason. It contains a wealth of practical knowledge for emergency medicine providers. Most of it is well above the knowledge level of the average paramedic.

That鈥檚 only a bad thing if you鈥檙e content being an average paramedic.

If you aspire to be a great paramedic, eventually you will have to seek information outside of the narrow confines of that EMS education box they have constructed for us. Tintinalli鈥檚 book is an excellent place to start.

8. Goldfrank鈥檚 鈥淭oxicologic Emergencies鈥

This book has long been the gold standard of toxicology reference texts, the leading evidence-based resource for poisonings. Given the fact that prescription and illicit drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., a good toxicology reference text is essential for advanced providers.

Whether you need to find the LD50 for Xanax for a 130-pound woman or the latest treatment for accidental Beta-blocker overdose, Goldfrank鈥檚 book is your best source.

9. A comprehensive medical dictionary

Every single library, from elementary school on up, has a dictionary. Your EMS library should be no different. 鈥罢补产别谤鈥檚鈥 is the most widely known, but 鈥顿辞谤濒补苍诲鈥檚鈥 is also an excellent choice.

Within their pages lies the language of your profession. It behooves you to know how to speak it.

10. A comprehensive drug reference

The 鈥Physicians鈥 Desk Reference鈥 is the accepted standard everywhere you go, but it鈥檚 a little too weighty a tome for our purposes. A good nursing drug reference like the 鈥Nursing Drug Handbook,鈥 however, is a must for paramedics and critical care paramedics. From looking up potential adverse medication interactions, IV drug compatibility, or figuring out that non-standard medication concentration your referring hospital has hanging, a nursing drug reference is invaluable.

For BLS providers, it can help identify that bewildering array of Grandma鈥檚 medication bottles in that Wal-Mart bag, or even worse, the handy-dandy weekly pill organizer with no bottles in evidence.

What鈥檚 on your list?

That鈥檚 my highly subjective and opinionated list of must-have books for EMS providers. Get 鈥榚m in dead-tree format, and if you can afford it, for your mobile electronic devices as well. Got any you think should be on the list of books for EMTs and paramedics? Let鈥檚 hear 鈥榚m in the comments.

This article, originally published on December 03, 2015, has been updated.

91视频.com columnist Kelly Grayson, is a paramedic ER tech in Louisiana. He has spent the past 14 years as a field paramedic, critical care transport paramedic, field supervisor and educator. Kelly is the author of the book Life, Death and Everything In Between, and the popular blog A Day in the Life of An Ambulance Driver.