EMS needs good leaders and managers. What can you do to become one? This is the latest installment of EMS Magazine's Professional Development series, a comprehensive curriculum for forward-thinking EMS providers wishing to improve their leadership and management skills, increase their authority and responsibility within their organizations, and change their field for the better. We welcome your comments on this series and invite ideas for future content. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is 3:17 a.m. You've finally made it back to the station after seven consecutive runs. The last three dispatches were for a "cut finger," a "sick person" and a "fall." Not one of the last three people you took to the hospital was really very sick or significantly injured. To top it off, the ED staff was none too pleased to see you again and again and again.
You tried to eat your dinner, reheated for the third time, but it seemed nasty. Disgusted, you tossed it in the trash, plate and all. Now you're lying in your bunk finally beginning to relax. As you start to drift off into sleep, the tones come over the PA, and your pager beeps. What's the first thing that goes through your mind?
Have you had nights like that? I have, and I remember what I thought and sometimes said out loud. You couldn't print it here, but if you've had similar experiences, you can pretty accurately imagine how I felt and the words I used. It wasn't right, but it did express the way I felt at that moment.
When you arrive on scene, you're met at the door by a woman in pajamas and a robe who looks 60ish. She is very upset. She says, "Please, my Roscoe is really sick, and I think he's gonna die!" When you get in the house, you find Roscoe is a 15-year-old canine of indeterminate breed. How do you respond?
Unfortunately, it might go something like this: "Why did you call us out here for this? Someone might be having a heart attack and need us, and we'd be here with your mutt! Hon, we don't take care of dogs. Don't call 9-1-1 again for this situation--this is not an emergency!"
EMS practitioners face challenges of this nature on a regular basis. How should we respond to this sort of call for help? It is true, we are not trained to take care of dogs, but there are other, better ways to react than the way described above. It's up to you to choose how you will respond.
They never told me in paramedic school that the job would sometimes be like this. However, it is, and likely always will be. I was lucky--I had been responding as a volunteer EMT-B for more than a year before going to paramedic school, so I had a good idea of what I was getting into. These days I meet paramedic students who have never run in ambulances as basic providers before going to on to become paramedics. I think they may really believe they're only going to respond to life-threatening medical emergencies or major trauma calls. That's just not the way things are.
EMS Stands for Service
EMS is really all about service. What we provide is a service--we respond to calls for help. Sometimes it will be a code, sometimes a major car wreck, but more often than not it will be more like the call to help Roscoe. The important thing for the patient and for us is how we respond to incidents of this nature. What should we do when faced with a situation like the call to help Roscoe? We might not have learned about this sort of situation or practiced how to deal with it in school. Where can we turn? What can we do to help us choose the best response?
I think we could use some specific guidance. People like you and me, who have chosen to serve in EMS, have a moral and ethical obligation to behave in ways that serve the needs of others and reflect positively upon ourselves, our organizations and the whole discipline of EMS. This is not easy. In fact, it's a constant struggle that takes significant time, concentration and effort. The choices we make and the manner in which we behave are a constant reflection of our professionalism.