Professional Development--Part 10: Personal Planning

Professional Development--Part 10: Personal Planning

Article Nov 30, 2009

      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

   "If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere else."

   —Yogi Berra

   A newly hired paramedic meets his supervisor for the first time and wonders, How long will it take me to get promoted, and what will I have to do to get there? He is about to take another step along his lifelong professional journey. Will he choose to pursue promotion and do the hard work needed to achieve it, or will he get bogged down in the daily grind and forget about it? It's his choice.

   In the same way leaders look to the future and inspire people to work together toward making a vision real, an individual can look forward and use similar methods to direct their own professional development. You can take control of your career by making good choices and investing the time and effort to improve. But where do you begin?

   First you have to choose to begin the journey—to step out on the road. Then you can take a page from the practices of top-performing organizations: Strong, successful organizations with capable leaders articulate a shared vision. You can use your individual vision to focus your efforts toward achieving your desired future. Figure out what you want—that is your destination. Your long-term goal is to make your vision real.

   Organizations also have mission statements. An organization's mission is communicated in a set of concise statements that explain the purpose of the organization and how it will proceed to achieve it. Individuals can benefit from articulating personal mission statements. This can help you determine what you must do to make your vision reality. Your mission statement can include many components. It's like your road map, helping you determine the path you'll follow.

Personal Vision

   Everyone has the potential to be better and do more. It helps to have a plan. Your plan begins with a personal vision. What do you want to be? What do you want to do? The richer and more detailed your vision, the easier it is to figure out how to make it real. That might seem easy, but it takes significant effort and honest introspection. Spend time reflecting on the choices you've made that led to where you are now, and evaluating how well you've chosen. Be realistic about where you are and why you're there.

   It's equally important to think in terms of where you want to be. Our newly hired paramedic might see himself as a shift supervisor someday. Perhaps he wants to pass his medical command exam to get off probation, or learn how to use the mobile data terminal. Maybe he just wants to figure out how to fit into station life and become one of the team. The point is, you have to spend time thinking about what you really want. Vision is about the long term: 10, 15, 20 years out. Achieving an advanced degree or paying for a child's college education could be long-term goals. So could a comfortable retirement. What are your long-term goals?

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   It takes some thought to really figure these out, but it's worth the effort, because it sets you up for the next step: writing a personal mission statement.

Personal Mission Statement

   When I was a student in EMS management, a professor had us write our personal mission statements. It turned out to be an important exercise that has helped me ever since. I go back and reread the original and update my current mission statement regularly.

   A personal mission statement is a way to record your ideas about what you want to do in coming years and how you're going to do it. It will include separate but related components. For instance, you might say, "I will become an expert on pertinent rules, regulations, policies, procedures and protocols." Linked to that might be, "I will be a resource for others who have questions about our policies." You might also add, "I will participate in the review and revision of agency procedures." These are specific statements connected to specific actions. Each is also an important aspect of preparing for promotion. These statements help you define the territory you'll travel and choose your route. Your mission statement becomes your professional itinerary, a practical guide that provides a foundation for progress.

   Do some research. Surf the Internet and see what you find. The trip you begin can become a lifelong journey of learning, growth and development. You have the tools and know how to start using them. The next step is to decide to do it!


   Your personal vision and mission statement are the strategic components of your personal professional development plan. With these completed, you next have to determine your tactics. You'll need to plan specific methods and processes to accomplish your goals. Take one of the examples above: "I will become an expert on pertinent rules, regulations, policies, procedures and protocols." What must you do to become an expert? What resources will you need? How will you get them? Following through with this example, the first thing you'll need is a complete hard copy of the most recent rules, regulations, policies, procedures and protocols. Do you know where to find them? How will you get copies? How do you know they're complete, accurate and current?

   The next step is to make a specific plan and schedule for approaching this task. You can use any kind of calendar, PDA or phone to keep your schedule. I know one medic who wrote out the procedures on index cards and kept them on a big ring. He read them any time he had a few minutes. Another medic separated the procedures into groups, put each group in a binder, and scheduled when he'd study each. Both of these medics set promotion as goals, and both are now supervisors.

   You'll have to figure out what works for you. I recommend seeking a mentor. Ask others who have achieved goals similar to your own for suggestions on making professional progress. Ask them what they did to succeed. Most will be happy to offer advice and share what they know.

   Finally, you have to make the choice to succeed. You have to choose to do the work. You must develop the discipline to continue pushing forward when you'd rather do something else. It is a constant cycle: Plan, implement, evaluate, repeat. Working hard to make your vision real is not a guarantee of success, but choosing not to will make success unlikely.

   Planning to succeed is not a static process. You must continually reevaluate what you want and how you plan to achieve it—constantly review, revise and update your plans. Taking control of your career is the easiest thing in the world, and the hardest thing you can do.

   Watch for more as this series continues in 2010.

   Michael Touchstone, BS, EMT-P, is chief of EMS training for the Philadelphia Fire Department. He has been involved in EMS since 1980 as an EMT, paramedic and instructor. He has participated in EMS leadership, management and educational development initiatives at the local, state and national levels.

Additional References

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