The Right Stuff

For the past two semesters, I have had the pleasure of doing the opening lecture to an EMT class at a local college.  This means I get to stand in front of a lecture hall of enthusiastic and often terrified EMT students who have no idea what to expect.  My lecture is called “So, You Want to be an EMT?”  Its purpose is to give the students an idea of what to expect out of EMS both as a career and as a provider.  I do not talk about patient care all that much, the lecture is more about stress management, the qualities that an EMT needs, what calls are really like, and also a generalized 50,000 foot view of EMS.

In addition to all of that, I also talk about finding the right fit.  I explain to them that one of the beauties of EMS is if you don’t like the system that you are in, all you need to do is drive down the road and you can find someplace else to start over that might work a little better for you.  In the recent months that has been something that I have had to tackle as well, and it has left me asking myself a simple question: “what is the perfect EMS system for me?” 

What I have tried to do is sum it up into five qualities.  Here is what I came up with:

1.  EMS centered – I want a system that is dedicated to EMS.  They need to be focused on patient care and encouraging the growth of their providers.  The focus cannot be on profit, justifying call volume or fire surpression.  It needs to be all EMS all the time.

2.  Horizontal career opportunities – This was a term that I heard Skip Kirkwood use a couple of years ago during a lecture at EMS Today.  The career path in EMS cannot and should not be solely vertical.  There needs to be opportunities for the street level providers to contribute to the organization with steering committees, study groups and assignments beyond the street.  This creates an environment where paramedics are encouraged to be involved with the growth of the system.

3.  Modernization – I want a service that is not afraid to take chances and be on the cutting edge.  When they see a problem they need to address it and be a leader in the industry.  They need to set the example for other services and also share information freely because strong care extends beyond the service and should be accessable to the entire industry.

4.  An engaged medical director – Having someone involved from the medical director seat is key.  Modernization and horizontal career opportunities could be largely driven by him or her.  Its their ideas that drive the service, their involvement that pushes paramedics to take that extra step to be the best of the best, and fosters a strong relationship between in hospital staff and pre hospital staff.

5.  An engaged leader – Engagement works both ways.  A provider must believe in their organization, and the organization must also believe in the provider.  Having a leader who has their pulse on what is going on is key.  They don’t have to know everything that is going on with the day-to-day operation, that is a supervisor’s responsibility, but knowing who their employees are both on the streets and off of it is vital for a successful service.  They need to know who is expecting, who did that bad call last week, and who had that CPR save.  Also, an open door policy is a must.  They need to entertain ideas from all directions: above them, below them and from outside the organization.

As you read this, you will notice that no where in those five points do I reference pay.  While I desire good pay, the political gears need to turn as well for me to get it.  Changes need to be made on so many legislative levels that there are more important things to me than pay when selecting what I think is a successful service.

So what does everyone else think?  Pick five things that are important you that you would look for in the perfect EMS department and share them in the comment section below.