Some of my favorite movies are sports movies. Movies like Bull Durham, The Natural, Hoosiers and Miracle. I love them. There is something about sports that encapsulates our human struggles like few other things do.
Sports can teach us a few lessons about being a good EMT as well. There are good ideas to be gleaned from successful athletes about running a scene and coordinating emergency care well. Here are my top five.
Have A Good Coach
Everyone needs a mentor. At least everyone who wants to be better at what they do needs one. Look around you for the EMT’s, paramedics, nurses and doctors who you respect. People who may have more experience and training in the field (but not necessarily). Find those people who you would like to be more like and talk with them. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to offer advice and give input on subjects that can help you become a better clinician.
There is an old Buddhist proverb that says, “When the student is ready, the master appears.” There are people all around you that could be mentors and coaches. You’ll find them when you open yourself to the idea of using others to grow and improve yourself. And if you still feel starved for coaching you can always come here.
Know The Rules
Every system has a rule book. It’s called your protocol book. You need to know what’s in it. You need to know it well. Imagine if Michael Jordan had only sort of known the rules of basketball. What if Lance Armstrong had a strong familiarity with the rules of road cycling but was still a little fuzzy on some stuff? You can’t be great without knowing the rules of the game inside and out.
That doesn’t mean that you are required to always follow every protocol to the letter. Protocols are guidelines. You’re still required to think. Every system has it’s tolerances and procedures for operating outside of protocol. You need to know that as well. You can’t appropriately deviate from the rules until you know the rules.
I defy you to find a great athlete who doesn’t practice constantly. Often, the thing that separates the average players from the truly great ones is their sheer tolerance for practice. They don’t ever feel completely satisfied with their current ability level.
This tolerance doesn’t come from a deep enjoyment of the act of practicing their chosen art. If virtuoso violinists and hall of fame baseball players simply loved practicing their skills more than the rest of us, they would continue to practice after they retire. (Most don’t)
The skill set and knowledge required to be a talented EMS care provider takes more than 24 hours a year to develop and maintain. You need to break out of the continuing education training rut and develop a tolerance for self motivated study, and practice.
Be A Team Player
You’re not alone out there. You are a member of a team that extends from the 911 dispatcher who started the call in motion to the discharge nurse at the receiving facility who will give the patient final follow up instructions before seeing them out the hospital doors. You are one piece in a complex process. And yet, you are a vital piece.
If you fail to uphold your piece of the process, everyone else will need to compensate for your weaknesses. That’s OK every once in a while. That’s one of the strengths of team dynamics. But it shouldn’t be the standard. The real art of being a team player is having the ability to be a strong link in the chain but maintaining an integral role within the team. that means not becoming the lone wolf and isolating yourself and your care.
As a team player you recognize and utilize all the resources available to you. You help being the team together on scene and make sure everyone has a role. You get on the phone with your doctor and consult on the complex cases. You not only provide the patient with the interventions necessary to complete your field care, but you think ahead and prep them for the next interventions they will most likely need at the receiving facility.
Play Your Position
Recognizing that you’re part of a team also means that you recognize what role you’re supposed to play and then you play your position. Nothing messes up team dynamics faster than a player playing out of position. Athletes understand this. You never see a quarterback just randomly decide to line up as a receiver. You never see a hockey or soccer goalie just decide to come out randomly and play the field for a while. Athletes play their positions.
Yet, in EMS we struggle with this. how many times have you seen the EMT in charge of scene control start doing patient care or a caregiver assigned to a patient start making triage and transport decisions. It happens all the time. And every time it happens, things invariably get confusing.
If you are the incident commander, back up and stay in command. If you are the patient care provider, provide patient care, if you are assigned to triage, do triage. Know your position and play it until you are assigned to a new position. Once you let go of trying to do everybody else’s job, you can start focusing on doing your job well. Do your job well and maybe one day we’ll see you in the hall of fame.