Graduation Date

Spring 2024

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Sociology

Committee Chair Name

Jennifer Eichstedt

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Mary Virnoche

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff


Ambulance, Emotions, Northern California

Subject Categories



This research examines how emergency medical service (EMS) workers navigate and manage their calls in Humboldt County, a rural region of Northern California. The primary theoretical framework is drawn from Arlie Hochschild’s theory of Emotional Labor. This paper examines how emotional labor impacts EMS workers within a rural environment and with limited resources. I also look at how COVID-19 complicated EMS workers’ experiences. This paper is based on qualitative research where I conducted 13 mostly face-to-face interviews with EMS workers throughout the County between 2020 and 2022. Interviews consisted of 30 questions and interviews ranged in length from 1 to 2 hours. Questions were structured to evaluate how EMS workers respond to, and navigate through, various scenarios that are known to cause an emotional response and stress while treating patients in the field. I asked questions that explored the various issues that workers face in the field, including: substance abuse, mental health issues, pediatric patients, traumatic incidents, medical violence, death, COVID, and gender issues. In addition, there are questions on self-care, what additional resources EMS field workers need, and their perceptions of the arguments about “defunding the police.” My research shows that participant narratives are generally consistent with existing literature. For example, all participants noted that pediatric calls were the most emotionally challenging. Additionally, dealing with patients experiencing mental health crises and overall lack of sufficient resources and social services to help those in need are also a cause of stress. Other factors that affect local EMS workers are the breakdown of our healthcare systems, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their ability to work in the field. This study increases our understanding of the emotions of EMS field workers and those who serve as front line medical providers.

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