Watch Your Ps and Qs

How EMS providers present themselves matters--here's what to keep in mind


It's been a long day. Tracy has been working in the 9-1-1 system and running back-to-back calls since she arrived at work 10 hours ago. It seems half the calls have been for things she considers absolutely ridiculous. On one call Tracy says to a patient, "You mean to tell me you called an ambulance for that? You know, we're not a cab! I can't believe you called 9-1-1!"

As the words leave her mouth, a few fellow EMS providers witness the incident. There she is, the newly appointed field instructor, asked to work a busy shift and losing her cool. Two first responders chuckle when they hear her. One doesn't. In fact, that responder looks shocked at what Tracy says.

In a neighboring EMS system, Roger is preparing for his interview. He recently graduated from a local EMT program and is eager to land his first EMS job. He arrives at the EMS office and begins the interview process. As he is introduced to the interview team, his cell phone rings. The ring tone volume is set on high. The volume on the ringing phone is so loud, it drowns out the conversation in the room. Flustered, Roger curses out loud as he desperately reaches for his phone. When he looks up he notices a few of the interview team have concerned looks on their faces. A feeling of doom sets in.

Roger sits down, and the interview process begins. A member of the team introduces himself as the operations director. He has a quick question: "Roger, please tell us how you respond to stressful situations, including when something does not go the way you want it to. When you answer, please include an example." Roger feels a bead of sweat roll down the back of his neck, and his face turns bright red.

Dario has been involved in EMS for five years. He recently transitioned from being an EMT-Intermediate to a clinical coordinator for a hospital that works with several EMS agencies. He has just finished meeting with an EMS crew for a case review. It was identified that the crew had breached a protocol, and there was a potentially bad outcome. The crew members knew Dario from working with him on the street and accused him of being nitpicky after moving into his new role. There was immediate tension between Dario and the crew, and the meeting essentially ended with Dario saying, "I'll write this up and get back in touch with you. In the meantime, try to play by the rules, cowboys!"

The EMS crew had laughed and walked out of the room. Now Dario picks up his papers and notebook. He storms to the door, opens it very quickly and starts to make a beeline down the hall. As he turns the corner, he nearly collides with his supervisor and another person. "Dario," his supervisor says as Dario tries to regain his composure, "I'd like to introduce our new director." Dario stammers a greeting: "Uh, hi. Sorry about that. I just had a run-in with a crew. I'm sorry, what's your name?"

The above scenarios are based on events that have occurred in EMS. In all three cases the provider appeared to become flustered. One incident involved a patient. Another involved a negative first impression with a potential new employer. The final case involved interaction with fellow providers. Each scenario could have been avoided had the provider maintained a cooler and calmer demeanor. Basically this involves paying attention to details and minding one's manners--watching your Ps and Qs, as some put it.

Consider the following:

Manners: Even in the potentially uncontrolled world of EMS, the ability to use manners can be helpful. In the first scenario the provider appears to "lose it." The fact is that EMS personnel are often called to respond to a variety of cases. Not all cases may appear to us to be emergencies. Whatever an EMT may think of a call, patient care and professionalism must guide their behavior. In this case both appeared to have been overlooked.

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