Columns, Patient Care, Training

Pass the EMS Profession on Through Mentoring

Issue 1 and Volume 39.

When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle … I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure. This, however, was afterwards of use to me … so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, don’t give too much for the whistle.”   —Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin wrote later in his life that if he had sought council before his purchase, he would have made a better choice. Some will say it was a lesson learned, making this negative experience one of value.

Life experience is a valuable tool, but what if we could learn without getting burned? Some experiences—a failed marriage, bankruptcy or losing a job—will cost us more than a whistle, and could have better outcomes with the benefit of mentoring.

Antonio Damasio, a noted neuroscientist, stated that emotions are “not separate, but rather enmeshed in the neural networks of reason.”1 We make decisions based on rational and emotional neural networking that are helped when an outside mentor gives us perspective to create a balanced and thoughtful deliberation. We need mentors in our lives and need to be mentors if we are to grow personally and professionally and deal with life’s challenges.

We all have a duty as professionals to reach out and share our wisdom, our purpose and our passion with the next generation of EMS educators and students. This is essential to maintain and grow as a professional body in a positive and purposeful manner.

A wealth of research validates mentoring. In 1995, Italian researchers discovered mirror neurons, which demonstrate how we learn and interact through the power of observation. These neurons allow us to imitate the behavior of another, such as yawning, social learning, mob behavior or other “contagious” actions.2 We unconsciously mimic good and bad traits that form the path our life will take; we mimic the actions of others which, itself, is the state of unconscious learning.

While mentoring is usually a long-term relationship, it can also be an imprinting in a moment in time. We’ve all been changed or inspired by the words or actions of another. Many professionals who started in the ’70s and ’80s joined our profession by watching Emergency!—the show that inspired a generation. Emergency! became the role model for the new profession of EMS and the impact cannot be overestimated.

It’s the responsibility of our generation of EMS educators to now mentor the next generation and create our own revolution of thoughts and actions. To be great mentors, we must see ourselves as visionaries who don’t see what we can get from the world, but instead what we can give to realize greatness in others. Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez and Mahatma Gandhi all mentored a new generation of thinkers who helped continue the work they’d started. Their visions galvanized mankind to address social issues and created a future of great possibilities. They imprinted their thoughts upon us—just like teachers do—and changed how we thought.

The problem is that many new and young EMS professionals fear asking for help because they think it will show them to be less capable and intelligent. Instead, they suffer in silence.

The challenges before us are real and no one can have all the answers; we must depend on each other for support. We must seek the very best mentors for our own life and model ourselves after the best attributes of those who’ve learned what we haven’t. There’s no shame in not knowing everything: The shame lies in believing you know and can do everything. Let it be said for all EMS educators that we carefully counted our coppers in life and didn’t pay too much for the whistle.


1. Damasio A. Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason and the human brain. Putman and Stone: New York, 1994.

2. Iacoboni M, Lolnar-Szaknes I, Gallese V, et al. (2005.) Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system. Public Library of Science Biology. Retrieved Nov. 12, 2013, from