Action vs. Right Action

“Hurry up and do something!”

Emergencies seem to demand that we take action. Not just action, but immediate action. Haven’t you ever stepped out of your vehicle onto an emergency scene ad had someone implore you to begin taking action? It happens frequently. And even if nobody urges us to being doing something, the urge remains.

The problem with, “do something!” is that it leaves out the most important part. In the midst of an emergency action means nothing. Right action means everything. Wrong action does nothing to solve the problem. Only appropriate, well thought out action moves us toward our goal.

But few people know the difference. For the lay person imploring us to begin doing something, the unspoken message is to do something smart and effective to help the situation. But really, any action will do. Just about anything other that something completely nonsensical will make the lay public begin feeling better about the whole situation.

It takes discipline in these moments to slow down and refuse…completely refuse to take any action other than correct and thoughtfully considered action. This takes time. The less experienced you are, the more time it takes to find the right action and implement it. And isn’t it unusual that the less experienced we are, the faster we tend to move. This doesn’t make us any more effective, but it looks a whole lot better than taking a step back and thinking things through.

Action is not the same thing as right action. Doing something isn’t the same thing as doing the right thing.

Now it’s your turn: I’d like to know what you think about that.


  1. You know, I was just thinking about this VERY concept, but in a different context.

  2. So true and much along the same concept as Kelly Grayson’s “just don’t do something, stand there” approach. It is mind numbing to see paramedics blindly commence “treatment” without being fully aware of the problem and in the process losing control of the scene. This quick fix mentality and the need “to do something” quickly comes at the expense of good clinical decision making and reasoning. I often feel that paramedics fail to realise that a calm head and a considered approach is essential precursor to good patient management. Unfortunately many still practice skill based treatment rather than patient focused care.

  3. about anything, the less the public knows, the more certain they are that they’re right.

  4. Harold Peace says:

    I was always taught “SLOW IS FAST. FAST IS SLOW” and told to act this way “Be a duck. All calm on the top but underneath paddling like the dickens”

  5. Another good one: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

  6. Emily S says:

    My father’s old saying was “Less haste, more speed”, and was usually trotted out for less critical problem-solving situations, but it was definitely the same idea.

    Everyone knows flailing around in a blind panic is useless, but having enough training to flail around purposefully is two-fold dangerous – you think you’re doing something productive, and other people think the way you seized control of the situation was masterful.

  7. My dad always told me, “Do everything at 3/4 speed” First responders are always being watched. If you try to do something fast and you mess it up then it makes you look even worse. Do everything at 3/4 speed and get it right the first time. I remember I was doing a stand by awhile ago for a high school football game and one of the players got hurt. My partner and I grabbed our gear and walked over to the pt as we assessed the scene. I remember someone yelling from the stands “Don’t worry, its not like you should run over or anything!” I remember thinking, if we had ran over and something happened (one of us got hurt, one of us tripped and fell) that would have made us look like idiots.

  8. I completely agree as a new EMT Im scolded by the Paramedics to alway move faster, when I want to move 3/4 and percise yet I see them making mistake after mistake but yet im the bad guy bucause im not sprinting at everything.

  9. I’m right there with you Tod. As a new EMT you feel like you have to catch up to speed with the veteran-ed Medics. I think it’s key to remind yourself to have patience with your skills and develop good habits- just like they did. We can’t rush ourselves to be good EMTs! One patient at a time! (or two or three)

  10. Wyatt Earp was quoted” fast is fine but accuracy is everything”