Stages of Grief over the NREMT Exam

By Dan Limmer

Most everyone remembers the stages of death and dying from those first few nights of EMT class –  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In my years of helping students pass the NREMT, I have observed thoughts and actions similar to those familiar stages introduced by Dr. Kubler Ross. The stages begin with shock after exposure to some good NREMT style practice exam questions and continue as the student continues to prepare for the NREMT. They include:

Denial – The exam isn’t really like that. I had a 91% average in class!

Anger – This is bull$#@! Why do I have to learn how to take their test? It is nothing like the street or my class.

Bargaining – I talked to three paramedics I know and they say these questions are nothing like the NREMT. It can’t be that bad.

Depression – I don’t have a friggin’ snowball’s chance in hell of passing this test. Was I even awake in class?

Acceptance – OK. I’m going to take a few more practice tests and study some stuff I found I didn’t know.

5 stages of grieving over the NREMT

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If you’ve ever taught an EMT class you’ve likely seen this. As much as we strive to teach our students to think and to prepare them for the NREMT, a shock still remains. A boogeyman emerges seemingly beyond our control.

One of my biggest (albeit anecdotal) observations is that people who remain in the first 4 stages—especially those in denial or anger—fight the NREMT and often don’t pass because of that. The angry student spends too much time arguing each question instead of learning from it. The depressed student has totally lost their mojo. You need that mojo when you walk into the Pearson Vue center or the exam will walk all over you.

In the emails I get and in the conversations I have with students during my EMTReview.com office hours I can usually pick out what stage they are in—and it helps me guide their study plan. Ultimately students have to work through these stages and believe they can pass the exam by the time test day comes.

In Part 2 of this article I suggest ways to help overcome these stages of grief.

Have you experienced these stages? Have you seen in in your students? What is your best story of going through the stages?