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‘Growing EMS Leaders’ Keynote Opens 2016 Pinnacle Conference

Teamwork. Training. Trust.

These were the key leadership attributes highlighted in the opening keynote of the 2016 Pinnacle conference. The speaker, Mark Hertling, is a retired lieutenant general with the U.S. Army and current senior vice president of Florida Hospital. He joked that he joined healthcare because he “didn’t see enough combat in the military.”

Though the trope of infighting and political struggle in the healthcare industry is certainly an easy target, Hertling chose instead to focus his keynote on an unexpected element: that which we already know. Walking confidently off stage and into the audience, Hertling asked the group what personality traits they thought make a strong leader. The eager attendees skipped the customary seven-second hesitation that comes with coerced group participation, and got right to blurting out answers.

Caring. Influence. Humility. Vision. Supportive. Competence. Trustworthy.

With each volunteered answer, Hertling nodded agreement, asked for elaboration or further definition, and punctuated key points with war stories and lessons learned from his time both in the battlefield and making the hospital rounds. And as the conversation grew long, his key point emerged: We, in effect, were the ones giving the presentation.

It turns out that through our collective time spent as leaders in the EMS field, we’ve learned quite a bit about leadership. Which is good because, according to Hertling, as members of the medical profession we are required to be leaders, whether we’re medical directors or rookie EMTs running our first call. When EMS arrives at a scene, the public looks to us to take command of the situation. If our paramedics and EMTs aren’t prepared to be leaders, then we have failed them.

The three overarching leadership attributes that Hertling stressed above all were teamwork, training and trust. In reviewing media coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Hertling recalled how disappointed he was to hear the blame that was placed by the media on responding agencies: “the police should have gone in quicker,” or “the hospitals should have been notified sooner.” Hertling said the only way we can avoid the blame game is through teamwork, training and trust. Though our individual leadership styles may vary, the mission is common and the tools are already in our hands.

This principle is one that defines the Pinnacle conference and was stressed again by Jay Fitch as he invited the group to the annual “breakfast with experts” morning mixer. “Remember,” Fitch said, “you’re the experts.”

Of course, even experts have much to learn. Today the general session kicks off, with session topics that include overcoming the obstacles to innovation, alcohol and drug addiction in EMS and new guidelines for stroke treatment. Be sure to follow JEMS and EMS Insider as we bring you coverage all week long.

In closing the keynote, Jay Fitch presented the annual Pinnacle Leadership Award to David Page. Page is director of the Prehospital Care Research Forum at UCLA, a paramedic with Allina Health and a member of the JEMS editorial board, but he was recognized by Fitch & Associates for his leadership role in revitalizing the Freedom House EMT training program. The whole staff of JEMS and EMS Insider extends a heartfelt congratulations to David for all of his hard work and recognition.

EMS leadership David Page and A.J. Heightman

Pinnacle Leadership Award winner David Page with JEMS editor-in-chief A.J. Heightman in the exhibit hall of the 2016 Pinnacle conference, held at the J.W. Marriott Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, Texas. Photo Kristina Ackermann