Primum Non Nocere – First do no harm

This article was originally published in the November 2017 newlsetter by John Spencer/Customer Service Manager, Lead Medical Educator

Listen carefully, do you hear it? Can you hear the cries for help? If not, listen a little more closely. It is the voice of our industry calling out in desperation, pleading for help because it has gotten so far away from its original mission. What mission, you ask? That is simple, to help those in need. Our industry is in trouble and is crying out for help. Here, let me explain further. Our industry is facing a major ethical challenge brought about by the unethical actions of our peers. If you need examples, simply turn on the news or search the internet and you will find actual stories of EMTs and Paramedics refusing calls, stealing money and possessions from patients, stealing medications from patients, stealing medications from their ambulance, or sexually assaulting patients in their care. But wait, it is not just those obvious ones. What about the providers that complain about non-emergency transports? Or how about those that complain about our “frequent flyers”, the homeless, the addicts, the elderly, etc.? Wait, how about those that actually believe that the NPA is used to determine if someone is feigning unresponsiveness? Or that there is an actual indication for attempting a 14 gauge IV in someone’s hand? How about that “caring” EMS professional that offers “advice” to the patient that was unsuccessful in attempting to take their own life so that “they can get it right” the next time.

Do you hear the voice now? Every time one of our peers makes an unethical decision, our beloved industry moves further away from the ideals on which it was founded. These ideals can be found in the EMT Oath and Code of Ethics. Yes, that is right, there is actually an oath and code of ethics. The EMT Oath states:

  • 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.

In the Code of Ethics, it states that a provider pledges oneself:

  • To conserve life, alleviate suffering, promote health, do no harm, and encourage the quality and equal availability of emergency medical care.
  • To provide services based on human need, with compassion and respect for human dignity, unrestricted by consideration of nationality, race, creed, color, or status; to not judge the merits of the patient’s request for service, nor allow the patient’s socioeconomic status to influence our demeanor or the care that we provide.

The full EMT Oath and Code of Ethics can be viewed on the NAEMT Website.

Is this something that you hold dear? Is this something that you share with your students? It should be! As instructors, we are blessed with the responsibility of raising up the next generation of EMS providers. We have the ability to shape and change our industry one class at a time and we need to embrace this important responsibility. We are the gatekeepers and need to rise to this challenge. Primum Non Nocere!

If you have any questions about this article I would be more than happy to assist! Please call 616-818-7787 or email

EMT Oath and Code of Conduct. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017