It was just another of those strange EMS moments in my life. I was walking out to the rig to return to quarters when I passed by the office of EMS System Director Bill Cochrane. In that instant when I briefly came into his line of sight, I heard him say, "Hey Mike, can I speak with you for a moment?" I knew immediately that it wasn't really a question. If the system director wants to speak with you, then you want to speak with him. Plain and simple.
In truth, this would be one of several conversations Bill and I would have about his recommendation for me to become an EMS educator. After making that choice and moving to Iowa, I quickly realized that the concept of advanced life support in that venue was just that--a concept. Although there were close to 400 EMS services spread across Iowa when I moved there, the only one operating at paramedic level was the service at Mary Greeley Medical Center.
One of many changes that had to occur to bring ALS to the Iowa heartland was the development of ALS protocols. Bill was the program director at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines and I was his paramedic instructor when he sat me down for what would be one of his most famous lectures. When he told me I should volunteer for the ALS protocol committee, my immediate take was "not interested." "Well, Mike," he told me, "there are only two seats in the house. One for those who watch and one for those who play. The choice is yours." At the end of the conversation, I was on the committee--not because I'd been coerced, but because I was convinced that it was better to play than to watch.
As Bill told me, far too many EMS providers don't really want to get involved in the ongoing developmental processes of our profession. They would rather sit back and watch others do the work, and then complain about the work the others did. His argument was simple and to the point: If you have something to offer and you want your voice heard, you need to pony up and do the work. Granted, not every idea that falls out of your head is likely to be great, but if you are not involved, it doesn't matter whether you have one great idea or 100 because none of them will be heard.
Professionally, there are many opportunities for valuable input into the ongoing events that continue to shape EMS. Some of those opportunities include:
Patient care report (PCR) development/revisions
Contract negotiations team
Public education/information programs
New vehicle design/specification
Continuing education program standards
Peer review/CQI committee.
While this is by no means an all-inclusive list, it represents a sample of incredible opportunities to take an active part in the ongoing development and evolution of our profession.
Make no mistake, you will have to make a solid commitment, plus free up time to actually contribute in a meaningful way to help bring to fruition whatever project you are involved with.
Oh sure, it's much easier and far less time-consuming to just sit back and watch others put in time and put out results. But in the end, if you were just one of the "watchers," do you really have a right to complain about the outcome? Under those circumstances, one can quickly and easily make the argument that you don't. If you had something to say, you should have gotten involved and made your message heard.
Over the years, I've said yes to countless projects and committees, all as a result of that long ago in-service on "watch or play." Believe me, it was not because I wanted to schedule a few more meetings. It just came down to my belief that it's always better to be proactive and get involved in the process, where you can actually make a positive contribution.
On the flip side of the coin are those who decide to be "reactive." They sit quietly on the sidelines until the project is done, then react with excuses and blame for why the project turned out the way it did. One can make a strong argument that if those who choose to sit and watch put the same amount of time and energy into meaningful work on the project that they do on moaning and groaning after it's done, they would find themselves to be ahead and would reap the additional benefit of knowing that their ideas/thoughts/concepts were part of the solution.
As an integral part of your EMS work life, this comes down to a choice that you get to make. Make time and take time to get involved and help shape your future, or just sit back and accept whatever fate your noninvolvement brings home to roost. The choice is yours. Until next month...
Mike Smith, BS, MICP, is program chair for the Emergency Medical Services program at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, WA, and a member of EMS Magazine's editorial advisory board.