What Makes A Good EMT?

I get a bunch of E-mails from people just starting their EMT education who want advice on how to excel in their programs. “How should I prepare? What books do you recommend?” The questions vary but their is always the familiar flavor of enthusiasm and the same basic question, “How do I do this well?”

Success in this field is fairly predictable. Use the right recipe and you’ll get there. I think the hierarchy of EMS success looks like this:


1.) Attitude

2.) Motivation

3.) Tolerance for repetition

4.) Goal orientation

5.) Strategy and tactics

6.) Performance


Attitude is at the top of the list for a reason. You need to start with an outward focused desire to serve others or you’ll always be fighting against yourself. Without a servants heart, none of the other stuff will matter. It’s a deal breaker. Some folks will tell you that you can be good at this job and not give a hoot about your patient. …they’re wrong.

Motivation isn’t just noise. How hard you’re willing to work is important. All the books and flash cards in the world don’t help if your not willing to study them… fanatically. Mastery of skills like airway and c-spine simply require a high tolerance for repetition. Those that perform best when the skill is needed are the folks who’ve done it again and again.

Of course none if this matters much if you’re not clear about what you’re trying to achieve. Do you know what you want? A huge part of your success is dependant on you having a clear vision of what you want to achieve.

Strategy is how you prioritize your objectives, utilize your resources, mirror mentors and advance on your goals. Tactics are the details that people come looking for when they e-mail me. The books, study guides, the exact preparations and advice on achieving a good grade.

Performance is the ability to produce the result you were looking for when it matters. In EMS performance begins with the first patient you touch. The moment your take all the knowledge and skills and bring them to bear on an emergency.

The problem is, we focus all of our attention on numbers five and six.

New EMT’s focus almost exclusively on number five. They hunger for the books, the techniques and the learning tips. They want to know about time frames and the learning objectives. They want a good study guide for the national registry. Field providers are all about number six. So are administrators and QA folks.

Five and six are important, no doubt, but one through four are more important. If the top four elements are out of whack, everything else is going to suffer. Perhaps we should spend more time on them.


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