Let's start with a quick exercise:
- Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
- Name the last five Heisman Trophy winners.
- Name the last five Miss Americas.
- Name 10 people who have won Nobel or Pulitzer Prizes.
- Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.
How did you do? Probably pretty poorly. None of us remember the headliners of yesterday. They were the best in their fields, but applause dies, awards tarnish, and accolades are buried with their owners.
Now let's try again:
- List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
- Name three friends who helped you through difficult times.
- Name five people who taught you something worthwhile.
- Think of a few people who made you feel appreciated and special.
- Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
The take-away from this little exercise was best summarized by cartoonist Charles Schulz: "The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money or the most awards. They are the ones who care!"
The Human Resource
How do you acclimate a new paramedic or EMT to your service? Your organization may subscribe to tried but often-unsuccessful methods that breed bad habits. Testing new employees' sanity by partnering them with seasoned (and often burned-out) veterans has been a process many managers have tried with undesirable results. Having no set objectives or goals in mind for new employees' formative years will likely leave you with a mediocre caregiver at best.
In the past, new employees with my department, the Memphis Fire Department, spent 20 weeks at the academy studying aspects of firefighting and learning the department's SOPs and EMS protocols. Our efforts were misguided, focusing on reteaching them to be paramedics and not paying attention to their acclimation to our system or their own success. New employees were left to succeed or fail in their careers based in part on whom they drew for partners. Those randomly selected partners completed evaluations, but they counted for little.
A more proactive approach to service delivery, coupled with a management philosophy that human resources are an organization's most valuable asset, led to changes in our department. We embraced some simple concepts: For a strong mentoring program, leadership and quality improvement goals must be developed and put into place. Goals should be developed by the end users--the employees--and facilitated by top leadership. Improvement measures should include strong EMS supervision, education and quality improvement. With these in place, we realized, an improved mentoring program would follow. Our challenge was to develop a program that would equip new employees with the tools needed to function competently and professionally.
A primary goal in the mentoring process should be to enable procedures that allow for proper sharing, retention and evaluation of information. Time should also be an objective. One of our focuses was to place competent paramedics in the field in a timely manner. Our old process--placing each new paramedic with another medic for one year as a second crew person--was not effective because it did not create a one-on-one learning environment. A paramedic who's driving has a hard time mentoring someone rendering care in the back.
A New Approach
EMS education should focus on enhancing providers' capabilities, rather than repetitive drilling on skills learned in school. Those skills should be evaluated early in the process, and employees terminated if they do not perform to standards. The goal is to retain quality paramedics and deliver the best care available. This may lead to losing large numbers of applicants, but the goal is to have leaders and exceptional patient care—not just warm bodies. With a streamlined, enhanced EMS educational track, recruits now complete the academic portion of their training at the Memphis Fire Department Training Academy in less than half the time as before.