The Medic I Tried To Be the Most Like

Watching the Jaromir Jagr in NHL playoffs last spring reminded me of playing street hockey 20 years ago.  I tried to play like he did, skating down the right wing, handling the puck with his right arm, protecting it with his left skate, and fighting players off with his left arm.

This also reminded me of the paramedics I looked up to as an EMT whose practice I tried to emulate after I became one.   There were a few who knew a more about what was wrong with patients than the rest, who were able to connect with the most difficult patients, and who always seemed to know what to do.  The one I tried to be the most like was Sean.

Standing about seven feet tall, Sean was just cool.  He played hockey.  He played guitar in a band.  He had parties at his house that went on after people left for their morning shift.  He read a lot about a lot of different subjects, all while studying geology in school.  He could  talk about football as easily as he could talk about philosophy.  And in addition to all these things, he had a deeper knowledge base about EMS than almost anyone I’ve encountered in my career.

A lot of EMS people seem to need to show off how smart they are.  I’ve engaged in that myself in the past.  Not Sean.  His mantra was to never stop learning, and he only shared what he knew when asked.  I remember doing my first ride along as a new hire with him.   While explaining what was in the drug box, he asked me to stop him if I already knew something he was talking about. That was never an issue.  After calls he was able to break down why some patients with difficulty breathing got a neb treatment and others got nitro in a way that I could understand.  When other medics bragged about the size IV they got on trauma patients, Sean explained why rapid transport without a line was better than sitting on scene to start one, even if the nurses complained about it at the hospital. This experience made paramedic school much easier.

One piece of his advice that had a ripple affect on me was to was to hang out in the ED’s as much as possible between calls.  That is an opportunity to learn how doctors and nurses assess patients, and watch how patients respond to their treatment.  I did that, and even got a job as an ED tech during paramedic school.  There I started a ton of IV’s, listened to hundreds of lungs, learned the difference between sick and not sick, and learned what nurses need and don’t need to know on a hand on a hand-off report.  Now I share these lessons with my students, and still use my experience as a tech when I do hospital clinical time with them.

Sean was already the paramedic most of us wanted to show up at a family member’s house.  When a patient was sick, he moved quickly and deliberately, and never appeared flustered.   He said that he could be a really good medic if he read more, though.   He taught me  that it was okay to not be perfect, and often  second-guessed his treatment choices after calls.  Sean was right when he said it takes at least three years before you became comfortable working by yourself as a paramedic, and that with all his experience he was still not totally comfortable with pediatric patients.  He never bragged about how good he was, or ever talked about how bad anyone else was.

But most of all, it was Sean’s people skills that I tried to emulate.  He could get along with everyone.  He’d get the fire chief that no one got along with laughing on a scene.   When hostile nurses complained about something he did, Sean responded by handing a photocopy of the protocol to with the PCR.  And he was was great with patients too.

I only worked with Sean a few times, and that was a long time ago, but he made a big impact on my career.  I heard that he left EMS for a while, but now is back as director of education at the service I used to work for.  I was happy to hear that.  EMS needs people like Sean.


  1. Great snapshot of the canonical “good” medic. Being able to bridge the gap between competence and affability is one of the tricky skills that is so very EMS in nature. It’s not quite enough to be the dummy with people skills or the absent-minded professor. Unlike other roles where you might specialize in your capacities — for instance, the academic anatomy PhD versus the sweaty RN working in the ED — we have to combine it all, and sometimes the desired traits can conflict. (Although I’ve seen effective crews where each partner holds down one end of the spectrum, good cop-bad cop style!) So the trick seems to be knowing absolutely everything but not acting like someone who knows absolutely everything — which many handle by just seeming like they don’t know ANYTHING until it’s needed. Some of the best field providers I’ve known played the dumbest, goofiest gits in the world, but they could calculate A-a gradients if you asked nicely enough.

    Plus, as a wise man said, if you play dumb often enough it’s a good cover for when you really ARE dumb…


  1. […] His clinical knowledge, the way he interacted with patients, and the way he managed scenes made him the paramedic I tried to be the most like when I went on in my […]

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