What Is An EMS Non-Conformist?

An Excerpt from The Non-Conformists Guide To EMS Success

The allure of conformity is powerful for all it offers. On the other side of the conformity dance floor is security, approval, and all the benefits of eventual success. Why wouldn’t we waltz? Doesn’t everybody?

Perhaps that desire within us to do something that matters can be fulfilled after we’ve gained the promotions, the love and admiration of our peers, and the power of authority.Then we can start being an advocate for the patient. Then we can start taking good care of the folks who call 911.

We can bone up on our skills, attend the conference, and develop the competencies we were putting off until we got the official nod. We’ll work hard to improve basic proficiencies, overhaul the broken training and orientation systems, and advocate for safer work conditions.

This is all a broken promise the minute we make it. Once we’ve achieved some degree of success by walking the path of conformity the expectations will only continue to grow.

Your leaders, whoever they are, have even less power to step outside the boundaries than you. If there is pressure on you to conform, you can bet there’s twice as much pressure on the poor guy or gal above you. Poor saps.

Non-conformity is stepping back from the speed and thoughtlessness that we tend to operate under. We manage emergencies. Most of our leaders have grown out of this industry that specializes in the fast fix approach. In our business, speed is king, and time is the devil. This creates an environment that doesn’t value thoughtfulness or introspection.

Asking larger questions about the greater purpose of our industry is frowned upon. Those who follow this path get labeled as pie-in-the-sky dreamers.

Non-conformity means being willing to take the time and effort to evaluate ourselves, our performance, and our purpose. It means being willing to stand for something and being willing to stand against something, especially when we stand against the mediocre status quo that pervades our industry.

Are you getting a vision of what I’m talking about here? Let me be even more specific.

EMS Non-conformists:

  • Think for themselves. They know their protocols and rules but are guided primarily by their own sense of what is right. Non-conformists speak with their own voice and hold on to their own values and judgment. They do not choose to be defined by what they do (as our culture would prefer) but choose what they do as an expression of their identity.
  • Expect to have their values expressed in their work. They don’t check their values and guiding principles at the door when they show up for their shift. On the contrary, they have an expectation that their greatest self can be expressed through their chosen work.
  • Believe that their lives and work should stand for something. In this regard, they refuse to be bartered like a commodity. The idea of punching the clock for a day’s pay is taboo to non-conformists. They work because the work is meaningful to them. In doing so, they maintain their power and are accountable for their actions.
  • Desire to be a part of a community and a team and seek meaningful connections with others. Our industry is a human industry and non-conformists seek to humanize and personalize their work. They pay attention to the details of their lives and the lives of those with whom they interact each day. In refusing to conform to the sterile, impersonal world of clinical medicine, they dive deep into the tragedy and triumph of medical care and fight to humanize their connections with their patients.
  • Hold themselves to a higher standard than the status quo and rally against mediocrity and incompetence. Non-conformists see that their work is worth doing well and refuse to be swayed by the tide of mediocrity that constantly pulls at us to accept what is just good enough as our standard. They always seek to raise the bar.
  • Don’t expect their leaders to have the solutions to their problems, embody their values, provide their motivation or direct their career path. They don’t look for parental nurturing and constant direction from their leaders, and they don’t whine and complain about operational minutia like memos and policy changes. Non-conformists seek grown-up partnerships with authority figures and seek common ground and mutually acceptable goals.
  • Fearlessly seek performance feedback and relish intelligent coaching and criticism. Non-conformists know who to hear and who to ignore. They consider themselves in a constant state of growth and don’t fear failure or mistakes. They look for opportunities to push their boundaries and acknowledge their own imperfections and mistakes without shame or anxiety. Non-conformists know that if they are not making errors, they are not living at the edge of their potential.

If you would like the full 48 page manifesto, The Non-Conformists Guide To EMS Success, type your name and e-mail address in the sidebar box to your left. I’ll mail you copy.

Now it’s your turn: Have you read the manifesto? What do you think?

Read More EMT Spotage:

The Ultimate Guide To EMT Vital Signs

Patients Define Their Emergencies

The EMT Code of Ethics

Are You The Opening Act or Are You The Rock Star?

Unconventional Thoughts on Emergency Services


  1. Matt Baily says:

    I was taken aback by the last paragraph about feedback. So often we are quite nervous about making mistakes, because in medicine, they matter, and you can get sued for almost anything. I tend to take failure quite personally, and don’t often use it as a learning tool, which as you’ve pointed out prevents growth. I for one, am supremely grateful for your manifesto, its a great challenge, and i’m going to leave several copies lying around the station, with the hopes that other providers will take the time to grow.

    great work!

  2. Steve Whitehead says:

    @Matt I think we name liability as our reasoning for wanting to appear infallible but I think the real reason is a deeper fear or failure. (The grown up boggy man) And research suggests that people don’t tend to sue us because of what we do, they tend to sue us because of how we make them feel.

    I don’t suggest informing the patient of any mistakes that you might have made. In fact I advocate always maintaining the illusion of control


    But when the call is over and it’s time for discussion, learning and case review, seeking performance feedback from trusted coworkers and being fearlessly honest about what went well and what didn’t go so good is essential … and unfortunately, rare.

    Thanks for your insights. I’m glad you liked the guide.

  3. Matt Thornton says:

    Great article!


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