Over the last 35 years, I've been privileged to work with some remarkable EMS professionals. Irrespective of the certification level represented on their patch, each of these "journeymen" of prehospital medicine had reached the pinnacle of their profession. Each and every one had rock-solid patient-assessment skills, mastery of their skill set, the ability to think critically and work under pressure and, lastly, the passion that comes when you've made the commitment to care for people.
Like people in any other line of work, these folks were particularly gifted in one way or another. One of my favorite partners, Ed Bulanda, had the gift of extraordinary technical skill capabilities. Ed could start an IV on a shocky patient, in the dark, with a penlight clutched in his teeth, and hit his first attempt 99% of the time. And he could read an EKG from across a room that had but a single 60-watt light providing illumination.
Mike Sullivan was able to instantly and effortlessly connect with people. More than once I saw him taking care of some little old lady who'd fallen, and within five minutes she'd want to file paperwork to adopt him. Give him the same five minutes taking care of a drunk construction worker who slid like overcooked spaghetti off his bar stool and onto the floor, and the guy would be trying to give him a job. I've never seen anyone who could connect as quickly with people as Mike could.
As well as their unique individual talents, there was one common thread among this group of folks. Whenever they were running calls, they were always polite and courteous, even under the most difficult and challenging circumstances. And I don't mean most of the time, or part of the time; I mean all of the time. It was a never-ceasing part of their professional behavior.
This month in BTB, I'd like to take a brief look at just a few of the benefits that come from being a polite EMS professional.
Being Polite Is Professional When a patient has that first encounter with a clean, professionally attired EMS provider, it is not a huge leap of faith to assume that they will treat that person as if they are indeed a professional. In turn, they will assume that as a professional, you will exhibit professional behaviors, and that they can expect to be treated in a caring, compassionate and appropriate manner. Those expectations extend beyond just competent and timely medicine, and include courteous and polite communications.
Being Polite Is Persuasive Discussions regarding transport decisions are everyday events in EMS. Unfortunately, many of these discussions transition into debates, and shortly thereafter into shouting matches. Once everyone is yelling, it's a certainty no one is listening. By comparison, when you refuse to get flustered but instead maintain a polite demeanor, patients and family members alike seem more inclined to listen to what you have to say. Let's face it, a well-thought-through plan presented in a calm, lucid fashion by a polite, well-mannered professional has a lot more likelihood of producing the desired results than a high-decibel yellathon. It's hard to argue with good logic, but it's really hard to argue with someone who won't argue back but instead remains focused and polite throughout a discussion, no matter how hard or frequently someone tries to push their buttons.
Being Polite Permeates One of the most impressive benefits of being able to maintain control of one's social skills on emergency calls is the far-reaching impact it can have. The patient, the emergency team and bystanders alike all can be touched and, to a certain degree, controlled when a polite, professional air permeates a scene. From the run-of-the-mill calls to those real pressure-cookers, over and over you will see a ripple effect when polite behaviors are the driving force. Polite, effective communications from a poised and confident provider can catch and keep people's attention and help keep them on task.
It only takes one person to spin up emotionally and get out of control--i.e., "when in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout"--to destabilize an entire scene. Conversely, one person who remains cool and calm and can communicate directly, politely and with tact can just as easily exert a calming, stabilizing effect.
Conclusion Just as we can increase the depth and breadth of our medical knowledge, we also can practice and polish our skills to an almost-instinctive level. With similar efforts, we can develop our people skills as well.
Having a solid medical vocabulary is essential if we are to communicate medical information quickly and accurately. By the same right, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish with please, thank you, may I?, yes ma'am, no ma'am, yes sir and no sir. It's the power of polite.
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.