The Kids are Alright

This post can also by found at The EMS Leader hosted by EMS Blogs.

One of the unfortunate things about having a new job is I fall at the bottom of the list when it comes to vacation time.  With the days off that I could get I was forced to miss the last day of EMS Expo in Las Vegas this year.  While following on Twitter though, I caught Greg Friese commenting on a panel discussion by members of the National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA for short) during a program called “The EMS Situation Room: NEMSMA Administrators, Managers, and Chiefs Forum.”  To sum up the discussion simply, the focus of the forum turned to what we will refer to as the “youth movement” in EMS today.

As a former supervisor for a service that likes to populate itself with lesser experienced individuals, it has become clear that the work force is changing, and it seems like some of the “old guard” is having difficulty dealing with a lot of the new attitudes and changing needs of the work force.  The entire topic is something that has certainly raised my eyebrow, and it is really something that we need to look at from the first day of EMT class moving forward to someone’s last day with an EMS service.

When I was in Washington DC this year for EMS Today, I was on a podcast hosted by Dave Aber where the panel included two of my paramedic instructors from Springfield College.  One of the main topics of discussion was the changes that they had witnessed in their student population over the years.  Fifteen or twenty years ago, when paramedicine was still in its infant stages, most of the student body was made up of people who had been practicing EMS for a number of years.  The vast majority of paramedic students were street smart, seasoned adult learners.  We staffed ourselves from the inside using people who were already integrated into the system and had a strong foundation and framework to help them through class.  As time has gone on though, both the work force and the pool of students have gotten younger and less experienced.  They are more of what people would consider a traditional student base.  Educators have been forced to adapt, and for the most part they have done well.

From the middle management supervisor stand point, I used to joke a lot that I should pack up all of the management books that I read and move on to reading parenting books.  The needs, wants, and desires of the younger generation have changed, significantly, and as a result, the way that those of us stuck in the middle had to deal with them changed as well.  Whenever one must deal with a workforce in their early and mid-twenties, there is always going to be that heavy focus on a social life.  Many in our field for whatever reason don’t understand the need to achieve balance between that and a professional life and it is up to us to help them through that.  It is part of being a professional, and encouraging professionalism within our environment.

Now, from the medical side, there has been a lot of talk about evolution.  We have changed how we run cardiac arrests.  We have added treatments, augmented how and when we do them, and we expect them as dedicated medical professionals to step up to the plate and do what is best for the patient.  Most of the time, they do exactly that, but sometimes people buck back with a “well, we’ve always done it THIS way” speech.  When they do that, we work with them, reeducate, and remediate them, and do what it takes to show them that we understand that this is a change, but there is a reason for it, and that reason is because it is what is best for the patient.

Much like the field provider learning to adapt to those new treatments, our leadership must adapt in turn to the people that they hire.  The attitude that educators, supervisors, and medical directors need to adopt is one that is largely be driven by “give and take.”  We need to make sure that we work with them, and we allow them to adapt to change rather than taking a “do it because I said so” approach and essentially jam change down their throats.

I feel like management and leadership today needs to be mindful of this, and just like the young EMT who needs to adapt to a new treatment modality, they need to adapt to the needs of their workforce.  It’s like a pyramid.  A few managers and supervisors provide for many EMTs and paramedics who then are expected to provide for an even larger patient population.  When it comes to patient care, their role is one largely of oversight, but when it comes to dealing with their workforce, that is where they need to make sure their focus lies.  The crop of EMTs and paramedics that are on the streets today are the ones that we need to care for and cultivate in hopes that they actually want to make a career out of this industry, and someday step up to the plate, step off the streets, and take the reins.

Sitting back, and saying, “I don’t get these kids” or shaking your fist at them in hopes that they get off your lawn, or magically grow up is unrealistic.  We can no longer rely on the hands off approach to management that many systems utilized fifteen or twenty years ago, at least for now.  Someday though, these “kids” will grow up and be the self-sufficient group that we want them to be but for the time being, we need to work with them and try to understand their personalities and needs.

Perhaps what we need to do is start focusing on the long term and structuring an industry that encourages personnel to make a career out of EMS rather than allowing them to use it as a stepping stone for something they perceive as being a loftier goal.  But I think that is a topic for a different post at a different time.