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Teresa Meadows: A Pioneer of Women in EMS

An excerpt from ‘Grady Medic - Tales of Atlanta ‘

Teresa Meadows surveyed the class of new EMT’s and Paramedics gathered for their first orientation class as new employees at Grady Emergency Medical Services. The woman’s cool blue eyes took in each of the brightly shining, youthful faces as she thought to herself, “They are just babies.” After twenty years of working and supervising new medics, she felt the weight of years spent sending ‘her babies’ out onto the harsh, unforgiving streets of Atlanta, Georgia to perform emergency care.

  Experience and wisdom are the prize for making mistakes and learning from them; she’d made enough of them herself throughout her employment. The woman was satisfied to see that the men and women treated each other, even at this starting point of their career, as equals. As a woman, she knew only too well that being treated as an equal in the ambulance by a male partner had not always been true. How many times had she heard a man complain to a shift supervisor, “You’re sticking me with a girl? Did I piss you off or something?”

  She had begun her career at Grady EMS as a field medic in the late 1970’s only to discover that she was one of the few women choosing to enter this new field of medical care. It had been a tooth and nail fight just to make it onto the streets because the masculine mentality had idiotic, preconceived notions that a woman couldn’t do the job. She had to prove time and again that she could lift fat people on either a stretcher or long spine board. The men had actually believed that she would be squeamish about bleeding patients or panic when there was more than one patient to be treated on a call. They didn’t believe she could keep up the near-frantic pace of call after call flowing into the dispatch center at Grady Memorial Hospital throughout the shift.

  The truth she’d discovered during those first months in the field was simple: Having breasts meant that you had to work twice as hard as the men to be accepted. She had busted her ass each day to prove that she belonged in an ambulance. Sick days? She never took them. Bad call? She jumped them. Non-emergency call? She’d be the first to take it. Classes? She was always attentive and honed her skills to outperform her male peers during practical examinations.

  She never allowed the men working with and around her to bait her into showing anger or having a flash of temper. What the men accomplished with their unveiled commentary was to forge her resolve to outwork, outthink, and outperform them at every given chance while on duty. She knew that any sign of weakness would only redouble their attacks and comments about ‘women in the field’ and ‘they can’t do the job’.

  People often give lectures about building a ‘thick skin’ and allowing insults to influence you. She sincerely doubted that these renowned authors had endured the ferocity and vulgarity of the verbal assaults she’d encountered during the first months and years of her budding career.

She did personally latch onto one term and claim it as her own, the word ‘Bitch’.

To the young medic, it was a watchword that meant that these knuckle-dragging men that she worked with couldn’t and wouldn’t run ever over her. She dug her heels in and fought. More than one man was stunned silent when they discovered that this small woman would confront and verbally emasculate them in a public venue. Word quickly spread that ‘she doesn’t take shit off of anyone’.

  Sure, there were men who wanted to work with a female partner in the first few months. Invariably, it was some moron who thought he could talk his way into her pants after shift. She held a hard and fast rule that her personal and professional life were kept far, far apart. She would shut down any idea that she was ‘available’ to the men. It was her job to win and, by God, she would win it on her terms alone through diligent effort shown on a daily basis.

  Slowly, all too slowly, the change in attitudes began to show. She’d heard more than one man comment, “She will kick your ass on a call if you mess with her.” She’d found herself in more than one fistfight with a patient while her partner simply stood back to watch the battle before them. She didn’t lose; she couldn’t afford to lose because it would give the men one more tool to use against her presence as a Grady Medic.

  The changes in attitude among her male counterparts also slowly gave way under the weight of commendations given by her supervisors and the Medical Director, Dr. Corey Slovis. Dr. Slovis saw her potential as an EMT and Paramedic with the quality of care that she gave to her patients in all situations. He used her knowledge base to model the training programs for both EMS and the Emergency Medicine Medical Residents under his supervision. Corey Slovis was just as relentless as Teresa at demanding the quality of care at all levels given to the people of Atlanta. The crafty physician would often pull her into an ER treatment room to show her prowess at running a complex cardiac arrest for the new medical residents to demonstrate the abilities of HIS paramedics working out on the streets. It was daunting for a medical school graduate to work under the cool, calm, and calculated directions of a woman wearing a paramedic’s blue shirt and paramedic’s patch as she instructed them on proper medications needed and a brisk explanation as to her rationale for its administration, especially while Dr. Slovis stood back silently with a smile.

  Advancement through the ranks came with the recognition of her skills and drive. Yet, she knew that she was not alone in the battle to change the stereotype of ‘women in the field’. Judy Reid, Maeretha Smith, Benolyn Henderson, Kimble Johnson, Gail Booker, and Mindy Eichelburger were other women working just as diligently to prove their value to the entire service at the same time. These women were the first to ride in Dr. Slovis’s Advanced Life Support Units designated for emergency calls only. Kimble Johnson took Dr. Slovis’s advice and became a physician. Judy Reid rose from field medic to the position of Training Officer for the entire service. Teresa and Maeretha had chosen a different path within Grady EMS; they both rose to become supervisors and administrators governing the service. Yet, the greatest change was simple acceptance by their peers at Grady EMS.

  Women began pursing the career path of EMT and Paramedic. The resistance encountered by ‘the men’ slowly waned to nothingness; a female partner became my partner. Some things, on the other hand, never changed. Her rise to Grady EMS administration and Director of Training was a direct result of her efforts to outperform everyone else. She still held the highest standards for patient care and held people individually accountable for meeting the established standards. She passed on the legacy of being a ‘Grady Medic’ to the ‘babies’ sitting before her in a classroom and led them by personal example daily.

  The woman beamed a sincere smile at her audience of new male and female medics. “Welcome to Grady Emergency Medical Services.”

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