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Why Leaders Read

As EMS providers, there is an expected amount of initial and continuing education that we must complete to keep our certifications current. The question is, how much extra work are we willing to put in to expand our stature and reach the next level?

We must constantly develop ourselves as individuals, no matter what level we currently inhabit personally or professionally. Aspiring leaders prepare for their new role in a variety of ways including attending training courses, finding a mentor and self-education such as reading. Leaders across all professions, not just EMS, read continually to stay ahead of the curve and expand their knowledge base.

Over the past few months, while attending various EMS conferences and related educational events around the United States, I have spoken with several leaders of our industry and asked them what aspiring leaders can do to prepare for leadership roles. A common thread in those conversations: leaders read.

There are many benefits to reading regularly; here are a few:

  • Reading opens the mind to new and different ideas, including those you may not agree with, but can lead to understanding different belief systems and methods of thinking. This is particularly useful in EMS where interaction with different cultures and sub-cultures increases as the world becomes more interconnected. Understanding other backgrounds and belief systems adds to our ability to exhibit empathy to our patients.
  • Reading cultivates knowledge. Many new treatments will not be initially forwarded by our certifying or licensing authorities for myriad reasons. As providers we need to be aware of new treatments even if we are not certified to perform them yet; if we want to truly be providers as opposed to technicians we need to embrace critical thinking and learn from evidence-based research. We need to understand the “why” behind what we do in the field to provide the best patient care as providers and to drive our agencies in the right direction to align with true best practices in the industry.
  • Reading helps you learn from others’ experiences and use those lessons in your personal and professional lives. Biographies and literature often tell of an individual’s ordeals and how they overcame those challenges or even how you can avoid the situation all together.
  • Per Harvard Business Review, reading cultivates creativity and innovation. EMS will need these traits to continue to exist and even thrive in the future by addressing the difficult issues that face us with new eyes and unique solutions.
  • Reading expands your vocabulary and increases verbal intelligence. This is helpful when examining research or studies, either clinical or operational, allowing the leader to break down complex information and distribute that information in coordination with agency goals.

All of us have multiple responsibilities, both at work and in our personal lives that take up most, if not all, our waking hours. Below are a few tips on how to fit reading into your hectic schedule:

  • Schedule time to read. Start off reading as little as a page a day; even this will whittle away the largest tomb.
  • Set a goal. Make the goal attainable, if you don’t currently read much start slow, maybe one book a month or two smaller articles a week would be achievable.
  • Read a variety of items. Your bookshelf doesn’t have to be lined with Shakespearian classics. You should be perusing a variety of materials: clinical topics, industry articles, literature, newspaper editorials or fiction.
  • Take notes while you read. However you are most comfortable noting the important parts of the information being presentable: use a highlighter, post it notes, or a pen and a pad. You might even write questions the text provokes. Taking notes reinforces the points in your mind and helps with recall of the information; it also has the added benefit of rediscovery months later if you have forgotten.
  • Read with an open mind. Read things you wouldn’t normally pick or wouldn’t agree with. Also worth mentioning, be aware of what you are reading. It’s hard to believe, but some people write with bias. Not everything you will read is true or helpful.
  • Join a reading group or journal club. Usually a few articles or studies are distributed prior to the group meeting and the participants discuss the articles and their possible or current uses. These are also a great opportunity for networking.

Continual learning influences your next step on the ladder to becoming an EMS leader. The great part about learning via reading on your own is that you don’t have to wait for an enrollment period or for a class to begin, you can start whenever you like and begin your education right now.

Suggested Reading

EMS Management: Beyond the Street by Joseph Fitch

Originally published in the 1980s, this textbook continues to provide a firm foundation for EMS leaders. This was the first text of its kind to specifically focus on topics front line EMS managers need. The text addresses various topics like human resources, administration, finance, and operations to name a few; each chapter is sub-categorized into different aspects of that topic. The book is out of print, but still available from secondary sellers online.

Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf

Greenleaf coined the term and idea of a servant leader with this book, originally published in the 1970’s. Servant leaders develop and empower their employees both professionally and personally thereby producing new leaders to continue the work of the organization and leave a larger legacy. EMS needs leaders with a mind for the future after they retire; developing those who you leave your work to is a major portion of a legacy and required for the evolution of our profession.

You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader by Mark Sanborn

Great organizations have members that are leaders throughout its body, not just at the head. EMS is a prime example of the necessity of strong leaders throughout; often individual providers arrive at scenes and interact with the public long before the “boss” gets there – those moments are critical for the outcome of an event and the people it affects. Sanborn examines the principles needed for leadership and how to leave a legacy.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Related to his TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”, Sinek discusses “the Why”, how we communicate our mission and why others should believe it matters. EMS leaders need to inspire others to attain the goals of their agency; communicating “the Why” to employees, stakeholders, and potential patients leads to loyalty, cohesion, and devotion to the cause even in bad times.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Covey asserts that by developing a personal character ethic an individual can be effective at attaining the goals they set. The author describes habits that will help the individual progress to independence and then interdependence. Aspiring leaders, whether in EMS or not, must have a solid foundation to build on if they are to be successful; a strong character is a necessity for others to trust and follow a leader and/ or their organization.

The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey

EMS relies on trust on a daily basis; we would not be able to obtain consent from our patients to treat them adequately if they did not trust us as providers. The same is true of the relationship between leaders and everyone they interact with: patients, families, coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates. This book relates the level of reciprocal trust in each of these relationships and the speed with which you can accomplish goals. The Speed of Trust breaks down the components of trust and advises how to gain trust via actions.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat in the 1500’s and many consider him the father of modern political theory. The Prince is generally thought of as a malevolent guide for leaders and was banned by the Catholic Church for a time, but portions of it describe political group think and how groups of people interact with leadership. All the theories may not be appropriate to apply to leading today, but as human reaction has not changed much in the last 500 years, being aware of these reactions can help the new leader.

Amy Eisenhauer has been a prehospital provider in New Jersey for over 19 years working in both clinical and educational roles within the EMS community. She hosts, a blog on EMS which engages providers and strives to improve the EMS community as a whole. You can contact her at


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