The Kids are Alright – Follow Up

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

Last week, we talked about the problems and challenges presented to us by the young work force that some EMS leaders are having a difficult time adapting to dealing with.  I have been giving a great deal of thought to what the solution to this problem is, and I cannot help but feel that it is evidence of a need to change how we train.  No, I am not talking about adding hours to an EMT class, or teaching CEU classes on how to be what some would consider a better employee, I am talking instead about changing how we utilize our field trainers.

Any EMS service that cares about what happens in the street, and cares about how their patients and customers are treated has established some form of a field training program, usually staffed by experienced employees who are initially shadowed by and then later evaluate the new EMT or paramedic to make sure that they are ready to be cut loose and released to practice their trade on the unsuspecting public.  I have seen many different methods used over the years from a group teaching approach, or a one on one tactic where the new employee spends all of their time with one FTO.  Others use a system where the “student” is bounced around from preceptor to preceptor to prevent them from picking up just one person’s bad habits.  They each have their own merits and shortcomings, but the real testament to their effectiveness is what we do with our FTO’s and their new employees once all of their requirements have been met.

Far too often in too many systems, employees finish up their precepting time and they are given the “okay” to hit the streets.  From there, they are on their own.  They might get a follow up six months or a year out to say “good job, keep it up” but beyond that the contact is minimal.  Maybe what we need is to establish a stronger bond and relationship between field trainers and new paramedics or EMTs and instead utilize them as mentors.

When there is a problem in the field, we have many places to turn.  We can pick up a radio and call for medical direction, or summon a supervisor to the scene, but those two options do not always fulfill all of our needs, especially when those needs are more personal.  When dealing with the stressors of the field, or the nuances of a system and how it works, I feel that many people would benefit from still having that mentor to turn to in the form of the person who the spent those first few weeks (or in some cases months) tagging along with traveling from call to call.

While I feel progressive discipline has its place in the business world, when I was a supervisor I always looked for another way to deal with a problem, unless of course, that employee did not give me any other choice but that to deal with it.  Falling back on values like STAR CARE or reminding people of the need to “do the right thing” and think about their actions always seemed to be an effective tactic for me.  Of course, there were those situations where one reaches the end of their rope, and the only answer was to put pen to paper and run a problem up the chain to the next level, but for me that was always a last resort.

Again, here is another place where having a mentor instead of a field trainer could benefit both the employee and the system.  If a system’s leadership had the means to go to a mentor and say “Hey, Bob is having a tough time with ‘XYZ’” and allow that mentor to talk to them and try and straighten them out from a more appropriate angle than a supervisory one that might be forced to take action.

While this approach might not be appropriate in every instance, it could surely promote a more positive relationship throughout a service and could help deal with some of the interpersonal problems that seem to arise in EMS.  We are, after all, a field that is made up of people with very strong personalities.

While it might seem like I am just advocating a title change from Field Training Officer to Mentor, I feel that the mindset and toolbox utilized for each of these positions are completely different.  Instead of creating an FTO system that allows us to train and prepare employees for the field, let’s strive for one that creates a relationship within the system and gives them a better chance of achieving the positive experience that we want them to have.