It’s the week before the final exam and my EMT class is feeling the pressure. The two-hundred question final looms large on the horizon and, in less than a week, the students will need to perform five randomly selected skills stations perfectly. This is the task that has most of the students really feeling the heat.
So we do what we do every class. We practice and practice and practice. So there we were, gathered around in groups, practicing our National Registry skills sheets. That’s when Joey asked me the question that absolutely floored me. It floored me and annoyed me, but really didn’t surprise me. I’ve heard the question asked before in many different ways.
Joey finished up his medical scenario and I was giving him some feedback on his performance. He looked down at the fictional patient’s medication list that I had provided him and he shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t really have to know what all these mean right?”
I told him I didn’t understand. He mulled the thought over in his head and took another stab at it. “I mean…we need to write these down and report them to the doctor, but it isn’t important for us to know what they all do. (Pause.) As EMT’s. (Pause.) Right?”
I thought my answer over carefully and then I explained that knowing the actions of the patients home medications was not a part of the standard EMT curriculum but it was a great educational goal. I gave him a few examples of why I thought the information was important. I explained why a septic patient taking beta blockers would present differently than one who was not. I explained why a trauma patient taking Coumadin would be examined with a higher index of suspicion than one who was not.
And then I told him something that I hope he carries with him into his EMT career. I said, “Joey, the world is going to work hard to place limitations on you. Don’t waste your time placing limitations on yourself.”
The world is full of people like Joey. Working hard to place limits and boundaries around their knowledge and their abilities. People struggling to define the outer limits of the worlds expectations.
I gave a 10 minute talk on evaluating nystagmus to a group of EMS educators and had an EMT instructor write on my evaluation form, “This is too advance for EMT’s.” I felt sorry for that instructor, but I felt more sorry for her students. Greg Friese recently thumbed through a stack of classroom evaluations to come across the remark, “This is too much information for a paramedic.” What the heck is too much information?
What makes us so willing to fence in our ability? Why are we so inclined to define the outer limits of what we should know and understand? I think there are three closely related reasons.
1) We like to keep the bar low.
As much as we might hate to admit it. We’re more comfortable with the bar set low. Life is easier when we know that we can clear the bar. When we’re confident that we can barely clear the bar, we naturally resist anyone who looks like they might want to set the thing higher.
“Wait a minute!” our comfortable self proclaims, “Nobody said we needed to jump that high.” Instead of warming our legs up and refining our technique we simply attack the bar raisers. Who needs them? Life is easier without them. Once the bar is firmly established we can switch over to cruse control and stop growing.
What we forget is that every living thing is either growing or dying. Not growing seems like the most comfortable choice, but the consequences of refusing to grow always catch up with us.
2) We fear the limitless and undefined.
Unlike many areas of knowledge, our current understanding of medicine is so vast that no single human being could possibly grasp it all. It stretches out in all directions and continues to grow each day. Swimming in the pool of medical knowledge is like swimming in the ocean. It has no boundaries that we can see and that leaves us with a lot of freedom. How far should we swim? How deep should we dive? How long should we tread?
This can induce a lot of fear. We long for someone to define the boundaries for us. We want a swimming zone sign and one of those neoprene ropes with the little floaty buoy’s on it. Nothing induces fear quite like our own freedom. And so we respond to our fear by creating the limits and blowing the whistle on anyone who tries to swim past the rope.
Nobody ever became a really great swimmer by staying inside the rope. As soon as you feel strong enough, swim past the rope.
3) We are inherently insecure.
On second thought, there might be one thing we fear more than unlimited freedom. We fear failure. Once someone raises the bar into unknown territory we invariably begin to imagine ourselves failing to clear the bar. We imagine ourselves crashing down in front of all of our peers and exposing ourselves as faliable and human.
What could be worse than the public humiliation of failure? The very idea of failure is so scary that some of us spend our whole lives only trying new things when the possibility of success is almost certain. And when someone challenges that feeling of certainty we lash out.
Fear is a powerful thing.
Now it’s your turn: What do you think? Is there such a thing as “Too much information?” Leave a comment and let us know.
And then go check out what Greg Friese of Everyday EMS Tips and Chris Kaiser over at Life Under The Lights have to say about this subject. Special thanks to Greg for inviting us to write on this topic.