A Day in the Life of EMS

Ah, EMS Week, full of granola bars, bat-belt chachkis, and music videos.

No, not a typo, my EMS Week 2014 included the great opportunity to be involved in Lt. Farooq Muhammad’s latest and much awaited EMS rap video: A Day in the Life of EMS!

Everyone involved in the making of this video embodied the true spirit of EMS. Even though some of us (patients) were not a part of their agency, we were welcomed and we all worked together to get the job done. Farooq’s videos resonate with EMS responders because under all the lights, sirens, and cool uniforms, the real qualities of EMS: teamwork, professionalism, and family, are illuminated. I was reminded of why this job is the best in the world while watching some of the other scenes being filmed. I became inspired to continue to learn and become a better provider in spite of the daily struggles with EMS nonsense that weigh most of us down.

IMG_4616The Author and some of the cast

FDNY EMS Lt. Farooq Muhammad is one of the EMS 10 Innovator Awardees for 2013 for his work on videos promoting high quality EMS. You can see his other videos on his YouTube channel.

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Dedicated For Life

“Not everyone wants a medal for their uniform, but everybody likes to hear ‘Thank You’.”

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Once again it is EMS Week – a week to recognize EMS providers, get free food, and maybe educate the public about EMS and what we do. I recently had the opportunity to be part of a podcast about EMS Week hosted by Medic SBK. One of the questions he posed in the interview was, “What part of EMS Week is something we should be doing ALL year?” There were many great ideas that came up in our conversation that I was going to highlight here, but this morning when I was thinking about this blog post, I saw the photo below.

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We, as providers, don’t appreciate each other ALL year. We pick at each other, catch attitude, stab each other in the back at the drop of a hat, but hardly anyone says, “Hey man, you’ve been doing great job. Thank you for giving your all.” How can we expect other healthcare professionals, our bosses, and the general public to appreciate what we do, when we don’t expect it of ourselves?

Being dedicated for life is more than a tag line for a campaign. The things we see and experience take residence within us and resonate far beyond retirement. Most of us are so busy keeping on our game face on and pushing down anything that looks like emotion, that we can’t begin to recognize the lack of general wellness in EMS as a whole. Sometimes, I wonder if we forget that we are human.

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I challenge you all to say “Thank you” at least once a week to a fellow EMS provider. Really appreciate them and let them know you mean it. If you need to write a note because you get tongue-tied or shy then do it! Let them know you are thankful for ALL their sacrifice: the holidays, the birthday parties, the vacations, the lost sleep, the cold food, the fights with family, and even their mental sacrifice.

I want to thank you all for your service and every sacrifice, no matter how small, to care for other people, most of which are strangers. You truly give your ALL, every part of you, and I am grateful that there are strong men and women out there to help us when we fall ill or are injured. Not everyone can do this job. You are a rare breed, and are to be treasured. I am honored to get to work with you and be a part of your life.

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What Are You “Saying”

While getting my nails done a few weeks ago my manicurist had CNN on the television, Donald Rumsfeld was talking about the United States response to one of the many violent events occurring in the world today. It struck me how eloquent this man was under pressure. I wondered how could this translate into my own deportment and why don’t EMS providers sound like this?

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Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines eloquence as: discourse marked by force and persuasiveness; the art or power of using such discourse, or the quality of forceful or persuasive expressiveness. These are all requisite to be even moderately successful health care providers and advocates for our patients. How can we convince a truly sick patient that they NEED to be in the hospital to curtail serious or deadly consequences if we don’t have the method to communicate this to them? How do we demonstrate our professionalism and passion to other related professions, healthcare providers, and politicians that also play a hand in advancing or restraining the future of EMS if we are not able to communicate well? Presentation is as important in EMS as it is in the business or entertainment setting. Good presentation is not just about tucking your shirt in and wearing new boots if you open your mouth ruin the illusion.

 Public Speaking

It’s not as difficult as it seems to “sound smart.” There are a few ways we can all start to improve our vocabulary.

  1. Stop using profanity. Cursing does not illustrate your point, shock, make you seem important, or benefit you in any way. It really just agitates people and that doesn’t really work positively most times.
  2. Be aware of your tone and volume. How you speak may be more important than what you are actually saying. I used to work in an area with an excellent provider, but the care he gave was often missed by everyone on scene because his tone was harsh and the volume of his voice was much too loud. Many patients were disturbed and several asked for him to “stop yelling at me.” It doesn’t matter if you are the best provider in the department if your care is marred by your tongue.
  3. Use appropriate (and correct) terminology. If you want to be treated like a medical professional, you should sound like one. Honestly, you should also write your documentation like one. If you don’t remember medical terms from your days of EMT school, bust out your book and study or take a course on medical terminology. This small investment of time and money will go a long way in increasing your stature with other medical providers.
  4. Think before you speak. Many times our vocabulary faux pas is not related to the words we misuse, but because we don’t police our tongues and end up offending people. This can lead to more than disciplinary action, inciting violence on scene and placing you and your partner in danger.
  5. Listen to understand, not to respond. When you are speaking with patients or their families listen to what they have to say so you can understand what the true problem is, not just your perception. Then you can respond appropriately and sound professional. Sometimes people speak to us because we are the only ones they trust to listen without passing judgment. We in turn are often entrusted with their life experiences and they end up imparting a gift to us.
  6. Read. Reading might seem incongruous with improving your speaking abilities yet how do you learn new words and ideas without reading? Read things you wouldn’t normally read. Read from all topics, not just related to EMS although you should try to keep up with current events within our field.
  7. Look the part. I attended a seminar at a prestigious university where a speaking coach was discussing how to have your message heard. The very first thing she talked about was visual presentation. People make their decision about whether or not you are worth listening to within milliseconds. That may not seem “fair”, but it is what we have to work with when attempting to deliver our message and treat our patients.

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The list above is not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start. It won’t be easy, but changing your vocabulary and way of speaking is possible with mindfulness and persistence. Don’t give up if it feels like the change is long in coming, it takes 3 weeks to make a habit. Changing how you speak won’t only improve your professional life, but can transform your entire life for the better.