Here’s an interesting question to debate around the table at your annual holiday party: Who’s the most important person in any EMS organization?
Is it the manager who’s responsible for and held accountable for everything?
After all, the EMS manager has to handle the budget, personnel issues, operations, logistics and everything else.
Besides the tangible items in the EMS organization that managers must handle, the leader must also supervise such non-touchable items as morale and mentoring programs. Wouldn’t this make the EMS manager the most important person in the EMS organization?
Some would argue that the most significant individual in every EMS agency is the patient—or, as referred to in many systems, the “customer.” Everything we do is for and focused on the patient. If not for them, we wouldn’t have a reason to exist.
What about the janitor? Recently, I wrote about a janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy who was decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic action in World War II. People could form an impression of your organization based on their first perception of how your building looks. If the janitor had the building looking terrible and sloppy, it could also affect morale among your staff. So some would contend that the janitor sets the tone for how others see your organization.
I think the people who work on the ambulances are the most important people in any EMS organization.
Whether they’re a paramedic or an EMT, an agency’s image and reputation rest on the shoulders of its field providers. Your crews are at every operational event that occurs. They’re the eyes, ears and hands that frequently make life-and-death decisions for patients. If they aren’t working under medical protocols, they’re the eyes, ears and hands of the doctor at the other end of the radio or phone.
The crews who run the calls are the ones the public sees. How they’re dressed, how they perform, how they conduct themselves and how professional they act may dictate how the public perceives your organization.
If a provider is dressed like a slob, then the public won’t think that only the EMT or paramedic is unprofessional, but that your entire EMS organization is also unprofessional. You could almost claim that the EMT or paramedic on the ambulance serves as an ambassadors and marketing representative for your agency. How they conduct themselves with patients, family members, other public safety professionals and the general public influences the public’s perspective.
Although the EMS manager controls the budget, we entrust our providers with thousands of dollars in equipment, vehicles and facilities. We expect them to maintain, care and sometimes repair vehicles or other equipment. Consider how much you paid for an ambulance, a monitor/defibrillator or the building that houses the ambulance and crews.
I’m always fascinated when I hear EMS managers discuss their employees and how they wouldn’t trust them with the simplest of chores but let them drive a $150,000-plus ambulance through the streets with people’s loved ones on board.
I also believe the EMTs and paramedics who work on your rigs are the most important people in an EMS organization because they’re the ones who mentor and train new employees. Besides the technical and worldly advice they give the new employees, the attitude they show them will affect those employees (and your organization) for years to come.
And when a new employee comes into your organization fresh out of school, the role of the more experienced EMT or paramedic becomes even more essential. School has given your new staff a basic foundation in EMS, but you’ll most often find they still need to develop the critical thinking and adaptive skills necessary to fully function on an emergency scene. The mentoring and training they receive from your more experienced EMTs and paramedics help the new employee to acquire those critical skills.
If your EMS organization is audited each year, there’s one important asset the auditor won’t find on the balance sheet: the EMTs and paramedics who work on your vehicles. The provider who represents the agency when they’re working on the ambulance is the EMS organization’s most valuable asset and person in the EMS organization. Recognize this fact and ensure your crews know that you do. JEMS
This article originally appeared in December 2010 JEMS as “Your Most Important Asset: Who makes your organization shine?”