How to Choose the Right Gear

Issue 11 and Volume 37.

When entering an emergency scene, a good first impression matters. Your patient, their family and the public will initially form an idea of your competence based solely on your appearance as you walk through the door. Take a few moments the next time you’re standing in a busy emergency department and observe the EMS crews coming in and out. You’re likely to see some crews that look very professional when it comes to their uniform and the equipment they carry.

You might ask: Why does a clean, professional image matter in EMS? Your ability to have compassion, show confidence or bring control to an emergency scene is as important as your appearance when it comes to building the patient’s trust. The EMS field has changed. Like it or not, we’ve become healthcare professionals. The image you portray to your patients and the public is more important now than ever.

Your service’s uniform policy probably details how your uniform should look. Problems aren’t likely with the uniform itself but with the manner in which it’s being worn by some individuals. To look professional every time you respond to a call for help, there are several things to keep in mind. First and foremost, your uniform should always be clean and free of stains. Dirt on your uniform or shoes doesn’t convey a professional appearance.

The type of shirt you wear is specific to your service. It doesn’t matter if the shirt is white, blue or gray, a button down, polo or t-shirt. What does matter when trying to look professional is that the shirt is not wrinkled and is tucked in at all times. If your shirt is a button shirt, it should be fully buttoned except for the top button.

When shopping for shirts for employees, managers should consider the following points:
>> How well is it constructed (i.e., will it wear out quickly)?
>> Is it comfortable and not restrictive?
>> Does it come in a fabric suitable for the climate in your area?
>> Does it come in long and short sleeves and look professional?
>> Is it machine-washable, or are there any special washing instructions, such as dry cleaning?

An EMS professional’s uniform pant should be the proper length. It shouldn’t be torn or frayed at the bottom. It should be pulled up properly around the waist without any trace of underwear showing from the top. If the pants have belt loops, then a belt should be worn.

Not all pants are the same. When considering which pants to require or purchase, EMS providers and their supervisors need to keep the following traits in mind:
>> How well are they constructed (i.e., will they wear our quickly)?
>> Are they comfortable?
>> If they’re dark, how quickly will they fade over time?
>> Do they come in a wide range of sizes?
>> Do you want cargo pockets?
>> Do they offer an expandable waist?
>> Will they look good on all sizes of employees?

Work footwear should be clean. If you wear boots, they should have a slip-resistant tread. Your shoes or boots should also be tied, laced or zipped up at all times. This is for safety and body substance isolation as well as for maintaining a professional look.

In addition to the above considerations, the following questions should be addressed:
>> How well are they constructed?
>> Do you want a steel toe?
>> Are they comfortable?
>> Do you prefer low, mid, or high shoe or boot?
>> Do they come in a wide range of sizes and widths?

In addition to what you put on your body before a shift, another big part of being professional includes working safely and efficiently. Your equipment can be a help or a hazard depending its state. Some items you may want to consider as part of your daily uniform include the following.

Safety glassesYour own personal safety glasses add another layer of protection when caring for a patient. Some sunglasses on the market today double as safety glasses. When buying safety glasses some things to consider are:
>> Will they protect you from liquid or objects that come at you from the side?
>> Do they have comfortable nose pads?
>> Are they scratch resistant?

Carry your own stethoscope. Many times a good working stethoscope is hard to find on an ambulance. They’re easily misplaced. With your own stethoscope, you also know where those ear pieces have been. There’s a wide price range when it comes to buying a stethoscope. Find one that fits your budget. Some key features to look for in a stethoscope are the following:
>> Do you want rubber or plastic ear pieces?
>> Can the diaphragms be replaced if cracked?
>> Do you want duel or single head design?

A good quality wristwatch is a great addition to your uniform. Some features you may want to consider when shopping for a wristwatch for EMS work include.
>> Is the watch shock resistant?
>> Is it water proof or water resistant?
>> Can you see it in low light?
>> Can it be disinfected if exposed to bodily fluids?

Ultimately there’s no substitute for good medical care. In many cases, you are called on to handle an emergency that is one of the most stressful situations in the lives of your patient and their family. Making a good first impression by looking professional and competent will go a long way in gaining the trust and respect of your patient.