Are you the opening act or the rock star?

Let’s not beat around the bush about this. You’re going to need to make a decision about who you want to be in EMS. If you’ve decided to be in EMS you can’t avoid it. Take a moment and decide.

Are you the opening act,

               or are you the rock star?

You’re either one or the other. People will call. You’ll show up. And when you do, you’ll either be the opening act for the real medical care they’ll receive later, or you’ll be the rock star. The first medical professional to evaluate them and begin the course of their medical treatment and care.

It’s up to you.

The opening act shows up and tries to keep everything stable until the big players are ready to come on stage. They try not to get booed and keep everyone moderately entertained. They’re a small player at a big show and when they stand in font of the crowed, they feel it. They are happy just to be associated with the rock stars.

Opening act EMS professionals:

1.) Know their protocols and medical skills well enough to treat most patients appropriately and stay out of trouble with QA.

2.) Rely heavily on past medical history and obvious subjective complaints to guide their treatments.

3.) Are either awkward with patient interaction or they ignore it and reduce the patient relationship to questions and answers.

4.) Struggle with delegation and scene coordination.

5.) Are in good company. People who are average at what they do always are.

6.) Believe that their primary role is to give people a ride to the hospital and document what happened. They don’t value their role in the patients medical care.

7.) Only feel useful when they can intervene in a dire medical emergency and significantly change the patients outcome. Everything else falls short of their expectations of what their job should be. This is a source of constant frustration.

Rock Stars are different. The crowd starts to cheer for the rock star before they ever take the stage. The fans love them. The chant out the names of favorite songs and scream along to the lyrics. EMS is no different.

Rockstar EMS professionals:

1.) Make quick connections with their patients. Their calm, reassuring demeanor has a positive effect on everyone else on scene. Rapport seems effortless to them.

2.) Are greeted by other crews, fire personnel and law enforcement with smiles. People like working along side of them because they love their job. They bring a certain energy to every scene. They’re fun to be around.

3.) Are good. They’re just good. They know their job and their skills well and they’ve pushed their medical knowledge beyond what’s expected of them.

4.) Are humble. They recognize that they are a part of a team. And they believe that they are an important part.

5.) Recognize the value of the patient and treat them with dignity and respect. They don’t fall into the mistake of lording themselves over the patient with secret ridicule or scorn. They like people. The way they treat their patients has nothing to do with who the patient is. It has everything to do with who they are.

You will most likely never take the stage to sing in front of throngs of screaming fans. You chose EMS as your profession. But you still have to decide if you are the opening act or the rock star. Which will you be?


  1. Hey, interesting points you make there – and a great analogy! Will try and keep them in mind when I hit the road on Sunday, first day on the job as an ambo 🙂
    Keep up the great posts!

  2. Steve Whitehead says:

    Great Flo. I’m glad you liked it. Let me know how the shift goes. Congratulations on your new career.

  3. Adrienne1001 says:

    That was powerful. Food for thought, definitely. Thanks.

  4. Hi Steve,

    Interesting post!
    I can definitely see both types frequently in my service. Thanks for contributing to Emergiblogs edition of “The Handover”
    Ive just found your site as a result of it and I have to say im very impressed!!
    Good to have you part of the Handover team!
    Thanks again.

  5. Great post!! I’m going to print this out and hang in my locker at work.

  6. Steve Whitehead says:

    I’m glad to hear so many of my readers have indentified with this analogy. And I’m honored to take part in the Handover. I look forward to future additions.

  7. Excellent post. That’s something that I’ve said for years but never have put it quite so eloquently. I’m going to post that up in the ambulance places where I work.

    I’m also linking to the post on my blog.

    Great work.

  8. Steve…great food for thought.

    I have to say, after a little soul searching sometimes I feel I have been the rockstar, sometimes the opening act, and sometimes the “roadie”. Even though I just passed the 20 year mark in my EMS career, your words give me something to think about on every call from here on out.

    Thanks a ton!

  9. Steve Whitehead says:

    I think that’s true for all of us Jason. It’s all a matter of degree. Nobody can show up and be the rock star every day (not even rock stars.)

  10. I like your website very much but I don’t like this analogy. I think there is no place for “rock stars” in medicine. Period.

    We’re trying to get away from all of that.

    Rock groups…now that’s another matter.

  11. Steve Whitehead says:

    @Gordon. I can see what you mean … if you mean there’s no place for arrogance and solo performances. But I do think there’s a place for people who aspire to their own personal greatness. People that want to be better than average in competence and proficiency.

    I made a list of five things that I thought a “rock star” was (Including humble.) Which point did you disagree with?

  12. Silverman780 says:

    I have only recently found your blog and I can’t stop reading it! This post I shared with a couple of my co-workers and they loved it-

    M.Silvers NREMT-B

  13. Mr. Whitehead: I’m glad I stumbled across your site. Very useful. Sorry I have to disagree with Gordo, he soulds like one of those people who went to a school, that had no winners or losers and everyone got a trophy. It is the Rock stars in our world that motivate the rest of us. We have them on the battle field and we need them in our Congress. I am far from being a “Rock Star”, consistantly, but I have been at times. It’s a nebulous concept for some anyway. Nonetheless, if we didn’t have them, there would be no “Medal of Hornor” recipients, and no one to stand out amongst the rest of us, pointing the way.

  14. Pardon the typo in my last. Got in a hurry.


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