Dance with Who Brought Ya’

By Gary Harvat CMTE, EMT-P (ret)*

Over the course of one’s professional career, there are individuals that move in and out of our life. Some for the positive and some, not so much. From those that influence us in a positive light, we learn, we develop, we become better professionals, and, in many cases, better human beings. I have found this repeatedly and as I look back at my professional roots in EMS, I see many of the things that I learned early in my career are still with me today.

Dance With Who Brought Ya'While some may think many of these learned skills are related to patient care and administration of that care. Yes, some of this may hold true, but moreover of these learned skills that I retain even today are about how we treat our fellow human beings. I learned much of this from guys like Jeff, David, Paul, Mike, and Duane. These were gents that I worked with early in my EMS career in the 1970s and their approach to dealing with people at their worst times still serves me well today. These life lessons, as I refer to them, help me manage my team as well as the clients we serve. One would have never thought lessons learned in an Omaha orange ambulance would still ride with me today – long after my last patient interaction occurred decades ago.

Don’t get me wrong, the aforementioned were excellent caregivers and always did their best for the patients they met but they also did it with a style and confidence that we see less of today. I worry, we have become machines in many respects conducting care in a hurried but methodical fashion but forgetting to involve the patient as we deliver that care. EMS is one where you must gain a person’s trust in the first few minutes – it is an art. Gain it and you will see a positive change in your patient. Not establishing that tie and, in many cases, your job of rendering care becomes more challenging. Only those possessing this uncanny ability can relate to this.

For me, these guys who worked in the trenches early in my career taught me many things but one of the most important was the skill of compassion as well as how to be a good listener. Listening is a challenging art and one that I find myself working at even today. It’s easy to get distracted and look like you are listening when in fact, your mind is somewhere else. Of late, I have seen this become more problematic. Especially, during the pandemic as we now resort to electronic face-to-face communications vs. actual. While all the electronic gathering posts have served us well, I question whether they have led to the deterioration of our listening skills. Personally, I have found myself on more than one occasion being connected to a meeting and looking at the screen of people with one eye while I keeping tabs on email and other documents with the other. Not a good practice and not one that I advocate. I need to better practice what I preach.

Back to lessons learned. This world needs more mentors. While we like to think the completion of large volumes of training lends us to being ready to care for our patients, in reality, the formal training only aids us in a small way. We learn more by doing and when we “do” with strong mentors watching, we become better at our craft.

As an example, when I completed my paramedic training in the 1970s, I really felt that I could easily assess and formulate an opinion on what might be ailing a given patient. How wrong I was when I stepped into the field and realized that while the training was a significant step in providing good care, it didn’t come close to the advice and feedback I received from my mentors. This made me grow and I learned that the education was great, but the mentoring was far better. I also know there were times when I thought “I know more than you,” on a given subject matter but I kept an open mind and was a sponge when listening, learning, and doing as directed by my mentor. While I did not realize it then, listening to those who have more time under their belt created a positive environment that still serves me well today.

Whether you are an EMS provider, a welder or an office worker, mentors are needed at every level and in every profession. Sometimes I worry that in EMS we overemphasize the hours and clinical time needed for a given skill/area. While I completely understand the importance, I also feel strongly that being paired with a strong partner/mentor cements the education component tenfold.

While my days of working in the field have come to an end, I still take the life lessons that I obtained from my mentors with me in my work today. I also believe we need to do a better job of paying it forward and this is something that I try to do with my own team currently. I encourage each of you veteran providers to do the same. Foster growth within your ranks and organization; lead by example and take the lessons you learned from those who came before you and use it in your delivery of care. Don’t think that the training and ongoing education is the sole script for success in EMS. Take those nuggets of knowledge you gained from those who came before you and use them in your daily lives. In short, always remember to dance with who brought ya.’ Trust me, it will serve you well, not only in your EMS profession but also in life outside of that Omaha orange vehicle.

*Gary Harvat is QMC’s Vice President of Client Success and a veteran health care provider with over 40 years of emergency medicine services experience.

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