Updated: Oct 17, 2017
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
This is my 25th year working in the city of Newark; officially more than half of my entire life has been spent working alongside some of the best providers in the history of this still relatively young profession. To work in Newark, to succeed at working in Newark, is to have it become ingrained as part of your identity. Even those long gone from our department still wear it proudly somewhere on their person - whether it’s as obvious as a shirt or as subtle as a different perspective on the world in general.
You cannot see what we have seen and remain the same.
To the outside world, misconceptions swirl around us in murky eddies of grudging respect and poor assumptions. People are often surprised to find out just how much medicine we actually do and how quickly we can do it in. Necessity is not only the mother of invention; it is the rock on which we hone our skills shift after shift. In this environment we are given no other choice.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Please do not misunderstand, my rose-colored glasses shattered long ago. We are not a department filled with saints and prehospital paragons. We fail as much as we succeed in all arenas; there is no pretty picture here. It is a ghetto, it is violent and it is poor in many places, our trucks are often held together with more hope than screws, hours are spent on street corners, the clientele is often more angry than grateful, the living conditions we enter range from executive to horrific, we do not get slurpee machines or warm receptions at the ERs - and it never … stops.
Still we come back, shift after shift, each one changing us just a little bit more - a fraternity forged in filth and exhaustion, picking each other up time after time (even if we do not like each other). Eventually you find that despite it all, you are given three remarkable gifts.
The first is experience, period. A year spent in Newark is equal to five years or even more spent working somewhere else. For sheer volume and patient contact alone, this is professionally invaluable and if you use it to your advantage it will make a tremendous difference on the type and quality of provider you are.
The second is fraternity. When presenting our department to the city not too long ago our Director, John Grembowiec said “We are not providing you with a service; we are providing you with a system.” You are now part of something larger than yourself that relies on your individual performance while wearing the uniform in order to carry it forward. You were given the patch to wear, yet every day you come to work you earn it over again in some fashion.
The third is a gift you will not immediately recognize, but one that will grow on you slowly - deepening with each turn of the season until it is a part of you. That is the gift of an entire city that you will come to claim as your own. A city with a remarkable history, defunct canals and ghost-laden ruins, centuries-old cobblestones and scars from riots - three and a half centuries of all the good, the bad and the ugly of America, yours for the exploring. You will know this city better than your hometown, become invested in a geography not your own because it will make you good at what you do, and in the end because you want to.
That is what it means to work in Newark.
What does this have to do with names? It means that as pointed out elsewhere by Dan and Terry, the change in our name and our patch does not change who we are. I have worked under the “UMDNJ” logo my entire time here, yet by and large it means nothing to people outside of the area. Yet “I work in Newark, NJ” gets their attention every time.
UMDNJ brought an era of growth to a scarred city; it is (was) the single largest employer in Newark. It became synonymous with trauma care and has provided the administrative umbrella under which we have worked hard to become one of the most comprehensive EMS systems in the state, if not the country. Things come to us when we need them; UMDNJ was that for the city and for us. It is time to close the umbrella; we are strong enough to withstand the rain on our own.
Tomorrow I will go to work and those big red letters, which have served as a beacon for so long, will be different - that will make me a little sad. I will drive past the place where NorthSTAR first landed and I will cross the same rocky parking lot that I have since 1988, go
into that “temporary” building I walked into when I was still 18 years old and have the same opportunity I am blessed with every day I’m there - to work with some of the best in the business doing a job I sincerely enjoy.
I am not a patch, I am not an ambulance driver, I am a Paramedic. I am not UMDNJ, I am not University Hospital, I am Newark EMS.
Damned glad to meet you.