On the first night of EMT school, instructors usually ask things like, "Why are you here?" or "Why do you want to be an EMT?" Responses from students usually revolve around the theme of "I want to help people." The instructor typically smiles and moves on, molding minds to treat trauma patients, allergic reactions, angina--the whole list of conditions. But one condition the instructor doesn't have time to address is the human condition. It's not part of the curriculum, there's no good way to explain it, and besides, they wouldn't understand it anyway.
Once in a while, a good book comes along that becomes the compass for change. I met Thom Dick, the author of People Care, about two years ago at a speaker series the Memphis Fire Department was hosting. The lecture (really more of a journey) about taking care of people he shared with us reminded me of why, 25 years earlier, I'd said, "I want to help people." His book provides a valuable way to share that perspective--that to truly serve the human condition requires not only your best clinical skills, but the patience, understanding and compassion of a total caregiver. These are the lessons we must pass on to the providers of tomorrow.
I was able to convince the program director at Dyersburg State Community College, where I teach part-time, to include People Care as required reading for all EMT students in its multi-campus program. The reading is followed by an end-of-semester term paper in which students discuss the book. The results of these papers took me by surprise, and made me proud to have passed on to my students insights that may enable them to have long, caring careers in healthcare. What took me years to understand is, in People Care, at their fingertips.
One Student's Perspective
Joseph Stephens wants to be an EMT. He wants to take care of people, and now he knows why. From his term paper:
Caring for People
Before I read People Care, my general outlook on being an EMT was that it was all about providing medical care to people. Don't get me wrong; that's a very important part of being a caregiver. However, along with providing medical care, there are a few other aspects of being a caregiver that People Care really opened my eyes to. Some of these are sincerely treating others with respect, a genuine concern for all patients, seeing things from the patient's point of view, and being professional in both appearance and behavior.
The first aspect of care-giving I would like to address is respect. Caregivers need to sincerely treat everyone involved in a situation with respect. Starting off with introductions and asking how they would prefer to be addressed helps the patient relax and makes the caregiver seem less like a stranger. "Ma'am" and "Sir" are usually safe titles to use. Caregivers should give this consideration not only to patients but also bystanders, their coworkers and themselves. The patient isn't the only one who notices how they're being treated. Chances are they will have someone who loves them at the scene. If anyone is being treated disrespectfully, it will be noticed. A good example of this would be when responding to a cardiac arrest and the patient has a DNR order. The body still needs to be treated with respect. Comfort should also be given to the family/friends present. A caregiver needs to respect every patient and their family members as if they were their own mother, father, sister or brother. At the same time, caregivers should show just as much respect for their coworkers and first responders, such as police officers and firefighters. This should be done not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because a caregiver represents their entire ambulance service while wearing their uniform. Even though people might not notice how nice a caregiver is, they will recall how rude they were in a heartbeat!