As in all aspects of the medical profession, EMTs are bound by a code of conduct as well as a set of ethical codes that they are expected to follow and demonstrate in all aspects of their behavior. When becoming an EMT a full understanding of this EMT oath and code of conduct will stand you in good stead and make your scope of practice easier to understand.
The EMT Oath
This is the oath for the EMT profession:
Be it pledged as an Emergency Medical Technician, I will honor the physical and judicial laws of God and man. I will follow that regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of patients and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, nor shall I suggest any such counsel. Into whatever homes I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of only the sick and injured, never revealing what I see or hear in the lives of men unless required by law.
I shall also share my medical knowledge with those who may benefit from what I have learned. I will serve unselfishly and continuously in order to help make a better world for all mankind.
While I continue to keep this oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life, and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times. Should I trespass or violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot.
So help me God.
The EMT Code Of Ethics
The EMT code of conduct or code of ethics is longer and includes the following ideas:
- Preserve life
- Do no harm
- Treat everyone with dignity
- Do not discriminate against patients for any reason
- Use the knowledge gained as an EMT in the best interests of the public and never in a way that will be detrimental
- Maintain confidentiality (there are very specific rules regarding this aspect of the ethical code)
- Maintain your level of competence and observe the competence of others
- Define and uphold professional standards
- Assume responsibility for your own actions
A more comprehensive account of the EMT Oath and Code of Conduct can be found by going to www.naemt.org.
Summary Of The EMT Oath And Code Of Conduct
Promote Health And Avoid Harm
The two main aspects, as mentioned in regard to the code of ethics above, of an EMTs job are:
- Promote health in a patient as far as is possible given the nature of the situation and the skills of the attending EMT
- Not causing any harm to a patient or to anyone else
All members of the medical profession are required to state that they will do no harm. There is no way in which you will be an effective medical professional if you cannot understand the need for protecting your patients by no harming them and, an extension of that principle, protecting them within the bounds of your job form incurring further harm. Two other principles involved here are:
- The fact that an EMT must treat anyone, regardless of age or race, and regardless of their own personal prejudices.
- The fact that an EMT must work with other professionals when necessary to preserve the life of the patient.
Paramedics And The Law
There are a number of aspects of the law that relate directly to paramedics and EMTs:
- As private citizens EMTs are expected to uphold the law at all times.
- In addition, as medical professionals, EMTs must engage in any legislative procedures that may arise as part of the profession. This could include things such as reporting unethical or illegal behavior on the part of a colleague. This also includes the stipulation that EMTs may not use their professional skills for illegal or immoral purposes.
When health care professionals break the law they struggle to recover from the resulting bad image that is created. It is highly likely that paramedics that do not yield to these stipulations will lose their jobs and may even be banned from seeking further employment in the EMT industry either for a set period of time or for the rest of their working lives. A firm understanding of the law and how it relates to you as an EMT is therefore an essential aspect of the EMT Oath and Code of Conduct.
EMTs and paramedics are professionals. This means that they are required to uphold a certain degree of professionalism in their daily dealing. Essentially EMTs and paramedics are required to:
- Maintain competence
- Uphold the highest standards of emergency care
If, for example, an EMT asks a bystander to help with a procedure, especially in cases where the task in question is one that legally has to be performed by a paramedic or EMT, that EMT is contravening both of the above stipulations. Firstly, by having a bystander help, the EMT is indicating to all present that he or she is not competent enough to perform the required tasks on his or her own. In addition this could compromise the level of care that the patient receives as the bystander will most likely have no medical knowledge or experience and therefore it cannot be guaranteed that they will provide the care accurately.
Scope Of Practice
There are several different levels of EMTs. Each of those levels carries with it a specific scope of practice. The scope of practice is basically a set of rules and regulations regarding what you may and may not do as an EMT at your level of qualification. The scope of practice could vary from state to state and EMTs who may perform certain tasks in one state may be unable to perform them in another. Consequently it is extremely important that you have a thorough knowledge of the particular scope of practice required in your state before beginning your career. EMT training programs always cover the scope of practice and make it very clear what an EMT can and cannot do. If you do not follow your scope of practice strictly it is similar to breaking the law. You may not perform a task that belongs to a professional at a higher level than yourself and you may not overstep your bounds for any reason.
Standard Of Care
An EMT is expected to perform actions that “conform with the reasonable level of skill, prudence, caution, and competence that could be expected under the circumstances.” In order to determine this, the EMT’s behavior will be compared to the behavior of other EMTs to see if there is a match. A large component of this aspect of expected ethical behavior is the question of whether or not the ERMT provided care in good faith and to the best of his or her ability. There are several situations where this will need to be determined:
- In cases where the EMT is the subject of a review for some or other reasons and the care that that EMT provides needs to be established as either being appropriate and in line with standards or inappropriate.
- In addition EMTs may be involved in legal proceedings, often as the result of a death of a patient, and in those cases their standard of care will also need to be analyzed.
Duty To Act
This is one of the more ambiguous stipulations for EMTs. The basic idea is that the EMT is obligated to act and assist in any medical emergency whether they are on duty in their capacity as an EMT or not. Clearly failure to act while on duty as an EMT is a punishable offense and illegal. However failing to act when you are off duty and the witness to an emergency is often interpreted as being more of a matter of morality than of law. In these situations there is a very fine line between the two and if the situation goes to court you will most likely be treated as a lawbreaker even though you were not at that time on duty as an EMT. A natural affinity to help others is a personality requirement for the job, so you should not have much trouble acting when necessary.
To a large degree the ethical code outlined above is an obvious one for a profession such as emergency medical services. There is a certain code of conduct that we expect our medical professionals to follow instinctively, and people who are drawn to the EMT profession are generally those who already have a natural affinity for the ethical behavior listed above. However a set standard, in this case the EMT Oath and Code of Conduct, is required in order to be certain that everyone is sure of where the line is drawn in terms of what you can and cannot do as an EMT.