Probie in the Doorway: A welcome for the next Jim Page


Thom Dick | From the November 2008 Issue | Wednesday, October 29, 2008

You_re sitting in the captain_s chair of your ambulance, squinting at the expiration dates on the narcs. Before you actually see her, you_re peripherally aware of the interloper, her movements tentative and halting, and you sense her fear. Soon enough, her shadow obstructs the sunlight you_re using to read those tiny numbers. You look up and smile.

There, framed in the open doorway of your ambulance, is a bona fide, certified, googoo-eyed, so-untried probie. You can_t miss that look: the protocol book under one arm, the shiny new Littmann in the same hand (no doubt presented by a proud parent or a close friend on the occasion of her acceptance into paramedic school), those clean, unscuffed boots, and the untasked fingers, nervously fidgeting. Of course, there_s the uniform, unsoiled and previously unworn.

What you do next may define the rest of her career and could probably end it in one fell swoop. She might pass on your kindness and wisdom to a hundred students of her own, who might then share it with their students. Or, depending on the state of your mood (and the size of your ego), you could single-handedly take out her talent forever.

You offer your hand, and sure enough, there_s the sweaty grip. She_s scared to death.

I think it_s fascinating to think about Jim Page on his first day, or Mike Taigman, Baxter Larmon, Scott and Marilyn Bourn, John Sinclair, Dan Manz, Jimm Murray, Pete and Ann Bellows, Bryan Bledsoe, Twink Dalton and a hundred others whose names have become bricks in the foundation of this important work of ours.

I_m sure all of those folks were nervous about their first rides, with preceptors who had no sense of the futures they were unlocking. I wonder how their preceptors_ first words and actions impacted each of them personally.

How do you come by a teacher_s wisdom? For most of us, it_s not even mentioned in our training. We just report for duty one day and find a probie in our doorway, who depends on us to do the right thing (whatever that is).

Permit me to introduce my friend, Peter Canning. Peter is a million-selling,New York Times-class author and full-time street medic fromHartford,Conn. He_s a dang Red Sox fan, but he has the best approach to beginningEMS students I_ve ever seen. I_m pretty sure you_ll instantly recognize the meaning, value and elegance of ˙Letter to a New Preceptee.Ó You can find it (and much, much more wisdom) on his Web site( It_s also included here, with his kind permission.JEMS

Thom Dickhas been involved in EMS for 36 years, 23 of them as a full-time EMT and paramedic inSan DiegoCounty. He_s currently the quality care coordinator for Platte Valley Ambulance, a hospital-based 9-1-1 system inBrighton,Colo. Contact him

Peter Canninghas been a full-time paramedic in the greaterHartford,Conn., area since January 1995. His first book Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine details his journey from speechwriter for the governor ofConnecticut to caregiver on the city streets. Rescue 471: A Paramedic_s Stories is the sequel. He_s the author of the blog, ˙Street Watch: Notes of a ParamedicÓ( and is working on anEMS novel, Mortal Men.

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Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Training, Jems Tricks of the Trade

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Thom Dick

has been involved in EMS for 43 years, 23 of them as a full-time EMT and paramedic in San Diego County. He's currently the quality care coordinator for Platte Valley Ambulance, a hospital-based 9-1-1 system in Brighton, Colo. Contact him at


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