One Shift at a Time: Stop complaining & start taking action



Jason J. Zigmont, MA, NREMT-P | From the January 2009 Issue | Monday, January 5, 2009

If there_s one thing volunteer and paid departments have in common, it_s complaining members. The specific complaints vary, but they usually center around management, the EMS system in general or, sometimes, even patients. Although some may be honest appraisals of current situations, many are just the ramblings of providers who are stressed, burned out or have a perpetually bad attitude. This dichotomy makes it difficult for management to sift through the negativity and act appropriately.

Finding ways to improve the system can be difficult. Complaining has become a sport for many providersƒa regular occurrence at organizational meetings, social gatheringsor even in backroom discussions. It_s even worse when providers make negative comments in front of other health-care professionals or patients or when we see them scribbled on the walls of the hospital EMS room. To help improve the system, and for the sake of all providers,stop complaining!

Your Responsibility

It may be hard to give up complaining, a national pastime in EMSƒand some providers may give themselves an MI if they try. But it_s time. The behavior breeds negativity. All too often it_s easier to point your finger at someone else rather than take responsibility. Not complaining and not listening to complaints are monumental tasks, but they_re the first steps you can take to fix your service. The point isn_t to forget about the problems but to do something about them.

Everyone thinks the problem is rooted in someone else or some other part of the system. But it_s time we take personal responsibility, no matter what level we_re at. This may sound impossible, and you may have a list of reasons why it can_t work and who_s in your way, but we can always make progress. The best way to do this is to improve your own shift, ambulance, squad or whatever you_re responsible for, on each and every call.

The great thing about EMS is that once the tones hit and you_re out on your call, you_re your own boss. Although we ultimately answer to management or medical control, we_re each responsible for our own actions. Our patients don_t see the internal bickering in our meetings or backroom discussions; they see only what we show them as providers at their bedside. Our partners, students and new members either rise or fall to the level of the other providers, and it_s amazing what one bad example can do to a department.

Be a Role Model

Pick whatever issue bothers you most and provide an example of how to fix it. You can_t change everything, but you can work on yourself and your partner. If your big complaint is about new members being unprepared,then turn each opportunity you have with them into a teachable moment. We were all new once, and the only way we learned was from experience.

While you_re at it, teach them theright wayƒnot a slick shortcut that gets you back to base earlier. If your complaint is regarding the level of patient care provided, then show everyone what a provider can truly do for a patient. If your complaint is that some don_t consider volunteer EMS personnel to be professionals, show them they_re wrong.

You may think others aren_t as committed or aren_t giving 110%, but most likely you could give more as well. Response times may be too long, but have you ever stopped to fill your coffee cup before a 6 a.m. response? Little things add up to big things and can be solved only one step at a time.

If you can_t find a way to improve yourself or take responsibility for the issue, then the complaint is probably baseless. Or yourorganization is completely lost, and if you believe that, then it_s time for you to leave.

We all get burned out, but if we_re not willing to make the effort to improve the

organization, it_s time to find another way to serve. It sounds harsh, but new members can be influenced by those who are too burned out, and it becomes obvious when new members start complaining that "things aren_t the way they used to be" even though they_ve been a member for only six months.

It_s a New Year

"Fixing" EMS is as easy or as hard as fixing each of us. Because the system is made up of imperfect humans, it can_t ever be perfect, but it can be improved. A new year is about to begin, so let_s make it better than the last one. In the meantime, let me know your biggest complaint and how it could be solved

Jason Zigmont, MA, NREMT-P, is an EMS instructor, executive director of the Center for Public Safety Education and the founder He_s also a PhD candidate in adult learning at the University of Connecticut.

Learn more fromJason Zigmontat the EMS Today Conference & Expo, March 2Ï6 in Baltimore.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, Jems Volunteer Voice


Jason J. Zigmont, MA, NREMT-PJason Zigmont , MA, NREMT-P, is an EMS instructor, executive director of the Center for Public Safety Education and the founder of He's also a PhD candidate in adult learning at the University of Connecticut. Contact him at


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