What Is a Paramedic's Work Schedule?

Paramedics work irregular -- and often exhausting -- shifts.
i Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images

Working as a paramedic is undeniably an exciting and rewarding career, but it's not for people who value regular work schedules and short work days. A paramedic's work schedule is often a test of endurance, requiring days away from home and unpredictable hours.

Varied Work Schedule

If you're interested in a career that guarantees predictable work schedules, look elsewhere -- if there's one thing a paramedic's work week is not, it's typical. Although most paramedics work full-time schedules, regular rotations are rare. Paramedics will often work 24- to 48-hour shifts, followed by two days off. For most paramedics, this means a work week that's different every week, with some weeks heavier on weekdays and lighter on weekends, before cycling to weeks where most of or the entire shift occurs during the weekend, with weekdays as off days.

Night Owls Required

Night owls often seek careers in emergency services because the job offers plenty of opportunities to work outside the nine-to-five workday. Paramedics routinely work day and night shifts as part of their regular rotation, although some metro emergency services employers allow their paramedics to choose either night or day shifts. Hospitals that employ paramedics may also schedule either day or night shifts rather than rotating between the two.

On-Call Hours

All emergency workers know about working on call, but the term can have different meanings, depending upon the employer. Many private ambulance services or emergency services departments that employ paramedics schedule 48-hour shifts, with 24 hours on active duty and the remaining 24 at the base, on call. Additionally, in smaller or more rural communities that may not have enough personnel available, paramedics may be on call, while not technically on duty, in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

A Push for Change

The time is ripe for much-needed change in paramedic and emergency medical technician work schedules. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that paramedics will see a 30-percent increase in career demand through 2020, opening the field to new workers who may be able to influence change. The 24-hour or longer shifts that most paramedics work are patently unsafe, writes Skip Kirkwood in the journal "JEMS," requiring paramedics to work longer shifts than the law considers safe for truck drivers to drive or pilots to fly. "Excessive consecutive work hours, without adequate, quality sleep intervals, is bad for the patients, and it’s bad for providers too," Kirkwood writes, citing studies that have found that performance diminishes dramatically after 19 hours without sleep, contributing to accidents at work and after workers leave.

the nest