You Can’t Give Away What You Don’t Have

Imagine we were walking down the beach together on a sunny day and I suddenly looked at you and said, “Would you like an apple?”

If you were hungry, your initial reaction might be, “Yes, I’d love one.” But you might also be a bit perplexed. I mean, what if I clearly didn’t have an apple? Somewhere in your mind you’d wonder where the apple was. Did I have one stashed in a pocket? Do I know a good fruit stand near-by? Your next offering might be an awkward sounding question. “Uh … do you have an apple, Steve?” or perhaps, “Where is it?”

When it comes to physical objects the implication is clear. I can’t give you something that I don’t have. It’s not physically possible. Nothing could be more obvious. And that brings us to an interesting point about some of our more non-tangible assets like compassion, patience, kindness and good patient care.

You see, when writing about things like kindness, compassion and patient rapport I’m as guilty as the next guy of falling into “tips and tricks” mode. In the past I’ve written articles about how to speak and behave in ways that help build patient rapport. I’ve listed tips for making the patient feel welcome and comfortable and I’ve extolled the virtues of good listening, kind interactions and compassionate care. But I, like many other EMS authors, have overlooked one simple truth.

None of it  really works if you don’t feel it.

That’s right. If you don’t feel compassionate, caring or attentive, your patient will know. If you don’t posses a servants heart, none of it really matters. It won’t work.

Sometimes in life you can fake it. You can fake like you care and folks won’t know the difference. You can act like your listening and get away with it. You can pretend that you are compassionate and people will walk away none the wiser. In fact, some of us get darn good at faking it. But it doesn’t work in EMS.

The people we meet in EMS are different. They are struggling with illnesses and injuries that tend to break through the polite veil of worldly concerns. Sick people see the world with amazing insight. They see what’s important and they see what is real. And suddenly you can’t fake it anymore. You run headlong into an inescapable truth.

You can’t give away what you don’t have.

It’s just that simple. You can no more give away compassion or kindness that you don’t have than you can give away an apple that you don’t have. If it isn’t in you, it can’t come from you. And all of the tips, tricks and techniques in the world won’t help.

Of course, the good news is that the solution is as simple as the problem. If you want to appear compassionate, have compassion for your patient. If you want the patient to feel as if you care about them, care about them. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. If you want to portray kindness, feel kind. It really is that simple. If you want to give away some apples, the first step is to go and get some apples.

The rest is really easy. Once you’ve learned to feel and carry those things within you that you wish to convey to your patient the other techniques will follow. It will suddenly make perfect sense to kneel and place yourself on eye level with the patient. Remembering the patients name will become an obvious necessity and explaining to the patient what your doing before you do it will be second nature. Once you feel it, everything else makes sense. No tricks needed. Thank you very much.




  1. A great post. I like to check in time to time for reassuring words. Thanks for your posts!

  2. You are 100% right.Thank you for posting this.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Beautifully written post. I’m a first time reader, having just stumbled upon your site. My boyfriend is a medical student on rotation, considering emergency medicine and he was just telling me yesterday that he’s scared of growing detached, complacent, or callous, as so many of his supervisors have shown is all too possible. I’m going to make sure he reads this.

  4. Adetore Bamidele says:

    U ar absolutely right. U can’t give wat u don’t have. I wish dose who pretend to be loving n compassionate can read this.


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