Administration and Leadership, Columns

FTOs Should Set Example for Trainees

Issue 8 and Volume 41.

At first, the new employee fresh out of school may have some false expectations of the profession they’re entering. They’ve spent countless hours preparing themselves to provide lifesaving interventions to the sick and injured. They’re excited to rush through the streets with lights flashing and sirens blaring, arriving just in time to rescue their patient from the grips of death.

Although we all entered EMS with this expectation, we’ve all too quickly learned the harsh reality this is the exception, not the rule. This realization may take the wind out of the sails of the new provider.

A field training officer (FTO) has an obligation to not only prepare the trainee for this reality, but also, and perhaps more importantly, convey how much more this profession entails. The new employee will be much happier and take away more from their career if they understand their role may sometimes be as simple as holding a hand or providing a shoulder to cry on.

Compassionate Communication

If you look back over your career, I imagine some of your most memorable calls didn’t require a single lifesaving procedure. Instead, they were the times you made a difference in a person’s life purely by taking the time to listen to them. These realities aren’t often emphasized during initial education, but are critical to providing proper care to those we serve and must be stressed by the FTO.

Whether it’s responding to the intoxicated man down or the sick call at the local nursing home, many of these calls for service are considered “routine.” This attitude can greatly impact the patients you and your trainee serve.

You have a duty to your trainee and their patients to convey the importance of effectively communicating with them. Regardless of the nature of the call, it’s essential for your trainee to constantly act as the patient’s advocate. Not only are EMS providers often the only healthcare providers to truly observe the patient in their everyday environment, but they’re sometimes the only human contact the patient encounters. This provides a unique opportunity to detect issues that may impact their well-being.

When dispatched on a routine incident, remind your trainee to avoid the “you call, we haul” attitude and remind them to take the time to assess the entire situation. Although the patient’s emergency may seem inconsequential, the patient might perceive it as the worst day of their life.

Trainees should be advised that they should be cognitive of their attitude while on scene—it can make a difference, good or bad, for the patient they’re committed to serve. Make sure you emphasize the role that EMS plays in the overall healthcare system. Prehospital providers are often the first line of defense, and sometimes serve in a primary care capacity.

Serving as an FTO is a full-time job that doesn’t simply end when your trainee completes orientation. Your role as FTO is more than an insignia on your uniform; it places a continual spotlight on you, and it’s not just the rookies who are watching. Your attitude and behaviors will not only impact the new recruits, but the more senior employees as well. Even more importantly, your attitude will have both a direct and indirect effect on patients. You’re in a position to be a difference maker in your system, so make it count!

As an FTO, you must be cautious about falling into a rut. Avoid demonstrating negative attitudes and merely doing just enough to get by. Take the initiative to set a positive example for the other providers, both new and veteran. I’m not implying this will be easy or automatic—you must continually make a conscious effort to demonstrate the characteristics of a true healthcare provider.


Every trainee becomes an extension of his or her FTO. This provides the opportunity to transform the care of far more patients than you will contact individually. Be the agent of change! Set an example for all to strive for and mentor others to become the best healthcare providers to those who have entrusted us to serve them.