Workplace relationships and expectations
For many people entering paramedicine as a career the workplace environment will be quite different from what you are used to. Here are some important things to know. Bear in mind that these are things that I think are important – you may disagree or think I’m wrong and that’s fine too.
- Ask questions. I joke that there are no stupid questions, only stupid people, and it’s sort of true if by “stupid people” you mean “people who don’t ask questions.” Everyone has to start somewhere and if you’re too proud to give someone a grilling (as I used to be) then you’ll never learn very effectively. Introduce yourself when you’re stuck at hospital and find out what they know. Ask senior clinicians clinical questions, make connections with your peers, get to know the nurses and orderlies.
- Experience is important and highly regarded. If you’re a “natural”, that’s great. But it’s important to understand that experience is respected in the ambulance world because people who have a lot of experience tend to make better decisions. It makes sense of course – someone who has seen a lot of different patient presentations will have a better idea of how to handle a curly one. This is not to say that your work studying in university isn’t necessary or important, but it isn’t sufficient for being a good paramedic. As a doctor friend of mine says about a medical degree, “it gives you the right to begin to learn how to be a doctor”. Yes, some senior paramedics are burned out or make bad decisions… but you’d still be wise to listen to what they have to say.
- Avoid negativity. I don’t know why, but ambulance industrial environments tend to be a bit torrid and there’s usually some kind of complaint-circle in the paperwork write-up room at any given time. The topics change but usually rotate around the perceived attitudes of management, the quality or otherwise of patient presentations, or wrongs done to the individual. The people having these discussions may be right or they may be wrong. Regardless, there is little benefit to a newly-minted recruit getting involved. Firstly you probably have no idea what you’re talking about and will not make friends by joining in. Secondly there are few things more likely to poison your enjoyment of the job than by taking on other people’s negativity. Avoid it like the plague.
- Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. I was told this when I first started working on the ambulance and it’s still true now. You may want to join in on people’s conversations and be one of the gang, but believe me it looks ridiculous when a 21 year old starts telling a 21-year veteran about how much rubbish work he’s getting. Resist the temptation. Ask questions by all means but, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, no-one is interested in your opinion. I wish it were different but that is the prevailing culture in all the ambulance services I’m aware of.
- Attitude. This may be the most important thing to remember of all. A good attitude is worth its weight in gold and will do far more for making you a good paramedic (and a happy person) than a thousand hours of extra study. I have a lot of university students run on my ambulance for a day and I usually give them an hour to impress me before I decided to spend my energy elsewhere. The ones who impress me almost always do so by asking questions, lots of them, being keen, and seeming happy to be there. I’m happy to go to work and I hope that you are too. A positive attitude will help you over the bumps and stop you getting complacent, and perhaps more importantly than that it ensures that your patients receive the care that they deserve.
- Don’t worry about making mistakes. We all know you’re junior and no-one cares if you make a mistake provided we catch it and you’re prepared to fix it. I do stupid things all the time on the road but I’m focused on making sure that I don’t do them again and again. Junior paramedics are often worried that they’ll make the wrong decision for a patient, but that’s not an issue. Your senior partner won’t let you do anything really unwise – it’s far more important that you learn to make a decision and implement it, even if the decision isn’t 100% correct. Decisiveness is vital in this job and finished is a whole lot better than perfect.
- Take feedback from your colleagues. I had a really hard time with this when I started. Feedback is rarely, if ever, meant in an uncharitable way. We all want the best for our patients and effectively educating the next generation of paramedics is a good way to achieve that. Take it from me that your instructor or supervisor takes no malicious pleasure in pointing out where you need to do something differently – take them at their word and address the issue.
“Don’t be a little sooky bitch when your instructor gives you feedback, take it on board and be better for it.”
Part 3 coming soon…