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Guest Editorial: A HELPful Mnemonic for Educators

Paramedic students love mnemonics. Along with being a memory aid, they can produce laughter when someone comes up with a funny way to memorize drugs or protocols. I’ve heard mnemonics ranging from silly to obscene. But you know what they say: If it works, it ain’t stupid.

As educators we too can utilize mnemonics to perform our duties and guide us in our craft. I find it fitting to use the word help as the crux of this article. It also serves as a mnemonic for some key qualities that help us in our jobs. 


Humility begins with not telling aspiring paramedics and EMTs how you walked to the scene, uphill both ways, with paper bags on your feet when you were just starting out. One of the lines these troubadour teachers use (and it makes me cringe every time) is, “These boots have more time on the job than you!” We are not a caste system—instructors and preceptors are not superior to students. Humility is an important characteristic when interacting with students both in class and during field internships, and one I wish some medics had in greater abundance. Always stay humble and kind.


No matter how interesting the topic, if someone is simply reading from slides in a monotonous drone, I will fall asleep. No amount of caffeine can change this. Death by PowerPoint is not teaching—it is torture. Adult learners may need a combination of teaching methodologies to grasp the information you’re delivering.

Move around. Interact. The first question I ask a new EMT class is, “What experience have you had with EMS?” This usually sparks a discussion in which students share something about themselves and become comfortable in their new environment. Pose a question before giving them the answer. Maybe a student has a family member with diabetes who can share insight into that disease that no text can.

Telling classroom “war stories” is a slippery slope. It can enhance a lecture when it pertains to the material, but it too often becomes a self-indulgent waste of time. Death, injury, and illness are worthy antagonists to every EMS story, but inordinate spewing of tales of blood and gore is not time well spent. 

When you have a medic or EMT intern, do not hand them the equipment list and tell them to check the truck and expect them to know what they’re doing. Guide them through the list. Show them where the tourniquets are, or the occlusive dressings for an open chest wound. Maybe you keep extra Combivent in your pocket because your truck sees a lot of asthma calls. 

Engage with them between jobs—go over the last call and ask them how they felt it went and what could have been different. Explain the decisions made and go over the patient’s symptoms and treatment you rendered. Using critical thinking before and when reviewing calls will enhance the learning process and make you a better provider. 


Laughter is a must in my book. For the most part a certain type of personality gravitates to our profession, and part of that personality is a sense of humor. Laugh with your students. The periodic funny story can show we don’t have to become robots to do our job right. 

But like anything else, overindulging something good can be a bad thing. One funny story may lead to the next, and then you have a trove of witty anecdotes when learning was on the original menu. Laugh and make others laugh, but as a supplement to the process of education.


How do you teach patience? The honest answer is I do not know. We often work more than one job to supplement our incomes, and we are often overcaffeinated and overtired, with patience at a premium. Add a difficult student to the mix, and it’s a powder keg looking for a match.

Regardless of your creed or beliefs, I like to think the Golden Rule rings true across the theological spectrum: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You were a student once too.

One of my clearest memories of paramedic school is of a preceptor who had no patience and treated me poorly because I did not know an answer. I was younger then and had little patience myself, so a heated discussion ensued—by which I mean we yelled at each other outside a busy New York City emergency room. Not cool.

Have patience with your students. They will never have all the answers. You won’t either. Tell them it’s OK to be unsure and not know the answer every time. Tell them you’re a student too because there is always more to learn. Teach them to HELP.

Frank T. Ancona, NRP, CIC, is an instructor-coordinator for the Center for Allied Health Education and a paramedic at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Contact him at 

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