Perceptions of Mental Preparedness in Emergency Medical Services Students: A Qualitative Study

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Emergency medical services (EMS) professionals in the United States lack the resources, education, and support systems needed for effective management of the occupation’s chronic traumatic stressors, which has resulted in a mental health crisis. The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to investigate EMS professionals’ opinions and thoughts about mental readiness to manage occupational stressors after receiving training per the existing curricula in EMS educational programs in the eastern United States. The research fills the gap in the literature by better understanding EMS professionals’ opinions and thoughts about mental readiness to manage occupational stressors. Information processing theory and the wounded healer concept provided the theoretical framework for the study. The research questions guiding the study related to EMS professionals’ descriptions of, and opinions about, the value of mental preparedness training to manage occupational stress. A purposive sample of 20 participants from EMS training programs in the eastern United States participated in one-on-one semistructured interviews. Qualitative narrative analysis was used to identify common themes. Participants were unable to describe mental preparedness curricula adequately and noted a lack of specific training regarding the protection of personal mental health. Participants’ reliance on external and preexisting stress management skills emphasized the shortcomings of the curricula and training. Recommendations for future research include identifying the most effective mental preparedness training for EMS professionals throughout an individual’s career. Results of the study are intended to guide meaningful improvements to EMS curricula to support mental preparedness and promote positive social change by mitigating the psychological burden of EMS professionals. Keywords: emergency medical services, mental preparedness, occupational stress, resilience