Well, it's spring in Washington, with blue skies and no rain for most of the next six months. Along with that, it's the last quarter of our paramedic program, and I'm doing what I can to make those last-minute, fine-tuning adjustments to the students' performance as we bring this group to the finish line. And a remarkable group it is. We started with 24 students and are down to 21, but those who remain have shown themselves to be one of the highest-producing medic classes of the 28 I've taught. One of this select group is a young man named Jesse Fox, a firefighter and aspiring medic from Central Pierce Fire & Rescue. He is one of those unique students with the ability to learn large volumes of content quickly, with excellent psychomotor skills performance and outstanding job communication abilities. There was one thing lacking, and I knew just where to place him for his last set of field rotations to make our work complete.
Ryan Tillman is a fourth-year medic with Clallam Fire District #3, who has recently moved into the role of lead preceptor. Without question, Mr. Tillman is one of the most motivated, hard-working paramedics to graduate from the TCC Paramedic Education Program in the almost 20 years I've been at the college. My hope in pairing Jesse with Ryan was that Ryan would infect Jesse with his incredible passion for patient care--and he did. I had the opportunity to do a field observation with Jesse, and it was obvious that Mr. Tillman had set Jesse on fire to deliver the best care possible.
Whenever I see EMS providers with true passion for medicine, I see a very different breed of cat. With each and every call, they look for ways to polish and improve their craft. When they encounter something odd or particularly challenging on a given call, once back at quarters, it's off to the books or online to search for answers. When the information is found, it is read and assimilated. For providers like Ryan, it allows them to quickly grow their repository of knowledge in both breadth and depth. Of course, the likely and predictable benefit of continually learning more about your craft is that your patient care skills grow by leaps and bounds. A provider with that kind of drive moves out of the novice role almost immediately and transitions into "entry-level competent" quickly. From there, it doesn't take long before they become proficient and increasingly capable of providing quality care in a timely and efficient manner. Again, with passion for patient care driving their professional development, it is just a matter of a year or two before the provider makes the final jump to being an expert EMS provider.
There is no question that to make these transitions occur in a timely fashion takes a tremendous amount of hard work and commitment to the profession. The knowledge and abilities present at "entry level" really only means that the provider is now "safe to work on people." Make no mistake, that is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. However, quality prehospital medicine cannot be consistently delivered without growing and polishing your practice. As Dr. Jim Adams, one of my first medical directors, used to say, "What gets you to the top does not keep you there long."
Sewing on the patch comes with a heavy load and commitment to a lifetime of learning. When that commitment is driven by passion to deliver the best care possible to every patient on every call, it is a real pleasure to see. The never-ending learning process is made far easier when your heart is truly in your medicine. In addition, you mature quickly as a caregiver, with corresponding improvement in all elements of your practice.
In the end, all of the work and dedication come together to produce an EMS provider with an unswerving commitment to excellence in patient care. I know of very few compliments that compare with the significance of those who have that unswerving commitment to their practice.
Last, but not least, on my short list of benefits to being passionate about your medicine is the satisfaction that comes from knowing each time the tones go out for a call, you look forward to providing the best care you can to the customers you serve. It keeps you fresh and on your game, because the desire to excel is a powerful force. It will push you to levels of performance you may not have imagined would be achievable.
Collectively, it all adds up to rock-solid, up-to-date, contemporary medicine, and that is just what I would guess most patients want. Are you ready to ramp up your practice and take it to the next level? If so, get infected with the passion to pursue excellence in prehospital medicine and watch your practice take off and your medicine improve. This is one infection your patients will appreciate and actually benefit from. 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.