As EMS providers, we have long wanted to be considered professionals in the healthcare field. Tired of being regarded as the “stepchildren” of public safety, we are eager to be recognized in the formal manner in which police and fire agencies across the country are recognized. So, why aren’t we? Granted, EMS is a profession still in its infancy when compared to police and fire agencies, and it has much room to grow. But who is helping it grow? Are you doing everything you can to see that EMS caregivers are considered professional? We all must take an active part to promote professionalism and it begins by looking in the mirror.
What Constitutes a Professional?
Webster’s Dictionary defines a professional as “of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession.” Professionalism is defined as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or make a profession or a professional person.”
From the beginning of EMT-Basic class, we learn about professional attributes: appearance, knowledge, skills and the ability to meet physical demands, as well as general interests and temperament.1
There’s an old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Another is, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” Which is true? Maybe both. I must admit, I have judged someone based on a first impression, only to be proved wrong. As the examiner at an NREMT exam, I was paired with a young lady in her final semester of high school whose hair was colored bright magenta. My immediate thought was that she must have lost a bet to have such loud hair. As we chatted between “patients,” she talked about her high school classes that had included physics and pre-calculus, and about her plans for the future. When I realized she was quite intelligent, despite her outlandish appearance, my opinion of her changed.
We must realize, however, that, to the public, a first impression means a lot. They don’t have a chance to get to know you. Just as you make a decision of “sick” or “not sick” based on your initial impression of a patient, they also have to rely on their first impression. So, look in the mirror. Are you the type of person you would want to take care of you or a family member? Appearance is a reflection of the job you will do and the care you provide.
Portray a Positive Image
When on duty, you are expected to respond to a scene in a complete uniform (or something similarly appropriate) because you represent the organization you work for. You are also representing yourself, your peers and EMS as a whole. Your appearance is an indirect indicator to your patient and to the public of your competence and trustworthiness to make sound judgment decisions.
I just returned from EMS?EXPO 2004 where, prior to the EXPO’s opening keynote address, NAEMT’s President, John Roquemore, showed a video of a commercial being aired by a well-known insurance company that depicts an ambulance stopping at an ATM so the patient being transported can withdraw some money to pay his bill. Roquemore encouraged EMS providers to contact the insurance company and voice their disapproval of the commercial, citing its insulting nature to the EMS profession. For years, the lay public has referred to EMTs and paramedics as “ambulance drivers”—a persona that we all have tried to get away from. We seek to be recognized as professionals, and many of the conference attendees showed their support of Roquemore’s stance with robust applause.
Why, then, do many of those providers discard the need to dress like professionals at such a conference? I have seen both dress uniforms and everyday uniforms as well, and commend those proud enough to want to be identified as members of the profession we all support.