Begin by looking at your ride-along process. Does it have specific goals and guidelines for every level of rider from first responder to critical care RN? Do the guidelines clearly describe the role of a rider? Are scene safety issues and lifting guidelines addressed? Did you include reminders about patient confidentially issues?
A second point to consider is student contact before the clinical. A visit by a company representative can lay the groundwork for an effective ride along. Give students a short history of your organization, the role it plays in EMS, a description of a typical shift, standard dispatch procedures and rider etiquette. Provide students with a follow-up tour of your facility so they can familiarize themselves with equipment and vehicles they will see in use.
Most organizations have rider-evaluation forms. But what happens to those forms after they're completed? Do they sit on someone's desk gathering dust until they're filed away?
One advantage of participating in a ride-along program is getting an outside perspective of your organization. To get the most benefit from these evaluations consider the following:
- The form should be no longer than one page.
- Questions should be clear and as neutral as possible.
- Use a scaling devise rather than simple yes or no answers.
- Guarantee anonymity.
- Tabulate evaluation form results on a regular basis and incorporate them into management decisions.
An effective preceptor training program, at a minimum, should address:
- Professionalism in relationship to patients, the public and other health care providers.
- Technical challenges the rider might face when dealing with unfamiliar equipment.
- Interpersonal communication in the work setting, including differences in learning styles and aptitude.
- Preparing the rider to work in potentially dangerous settings -- i.e. traffic accidents or hostile environments -- and methods for safely dealing with patients who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- How to decrease the risk of liability by ensuring the rider functions only within the scope of his/her training and under observation by the preceptor.
Build a Bridge of Understanding
Frequently an organization's quality assurance coordinator is in a good position to oversee a preceptor training program and implement changes that are reflected by the rider evaluation survey data.
Angela didn't have the benefit of becoming familiar with Jenn and Art's equipment by touring the ambulance before her shift started. Her preceptors didn't talk to her about how their organization fits into the network that makes up EMS providers. Jenn didn't realize how important it was to get a sense of Angie's inexperience or how she would function in an emergency setting. Instead of a get-acquainted talk before her shift, Angela was set into the back of the ambulance as if she were a piece of luggage. She was set up for failure before her clinical ever started.
Jenn didn't ever think of herself as a preceptor. She saw herself as someone who was stuck with a rider. Because of her previous bad experience, compounded by a lack of training, Jenn's opportunity to share years of experience with Angela was lost.
Working alongside new first responders, EMTs and paramedic students, a bridge of understanding can be built that will improve service to the community and contribute to a more enjoyable work environment. Look at your system through the eyes of your riders. If you already have an effective program in place, congratulations! If it needs a little fine-tuning, consider investing some time and energy so your riders become a benefit instead of a liability.
Frieda Bruck, BA, MA, NREMT-P (ret.) worked in EMS as a care provider, educator and supervisor for North Memorial Health Care of Minneapolis, MN. After the lights and sirens, she became a professional artist (frieda-bruck.artistwebsites.com), volunteers for the Sherburne County Sheriff's Department Mounted Patrol and occasionally does educational consulting.