All in a day’s work: Psychological trauma among rural Vermont emergency medical services

Plan Author

Sarah Warner, 2018

Fields of Concentration

Sample Course

  • Course: Urban Sociology
  • Course: Social Issues in Community Context
  • Tutorial: Psychology of Trauma
  • Tutorial: First Responder Community and Trauma

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Lisa Wolf, Institute of Emergency Nursing Research


This Plan includes two papers and an exam designed to test both my general knowledge in psychology as well as aspects pertaining to my other Plan components. The first paper, titled “An occupational hazard: The impact of critical incidents on rural Vermont Emergency Medical Services,” includes a survey of more than 400 EMS members regarding their experiences with critical incidents. The second paper is titled “What can we do? An organizational approach to the hazards of the job.”


Being a member of EMS in rural Vermont poses some unique challenges that other agencies may not have to face, while also facing the same obstacles as other organizations in the country. Like all EMS, responders in Vermont are experiencing to Critical Incidents on potentially a daily basis, which leaves them exposed to the risk of developing burnout or PTSD. While these problems have been on EMS’s radar for a few decades now, not much significant seems to have changed in the way of treating or preventing these conditions.

As a whole, we like knowing where we can point to and say that there is a physical manifestation of a problem. With modern medicine and brain imaging, we are starting to see that this also holds true for psychiatric illnesses. Even without imaging, we’ve known for a long time that the majority of mental illnesses comes from a hormonal imbalance in the brain, something that the right kind of medication can often help fix. By being able to “fix” something, it had to have been real in the first place. With imaging, we can take it one step further and show that a depressed brain looks very different from the average, non-depressed brain.


The most interesting part of my Plan is taking theories surrounding PTSD and burnout that have been used in either urban EMS or other first-responder circumstances and applying it to rural Vermont EMS. I remember working on analyzing my survey results in an Excel spreadsheet the most. I especially remember the shock of discovering the amount of responses I ended up getting.