Checklist for Success
Checklist for Success in EMT/Paramedic School
By David S. Becker, MA, EMT-P
Nov. 29, 2005
For those students just starting out in EMT education or students who have passed their EMT training and are now advancing to the paramedic level, I thought I would give you some suggestions on how to be successful (or more successful) in school. Regardless of your background—if you’ve just graduated from high school or college, or if you’ve been out of school for a number of years—you owe it to yourself to get the most out of your time commitment to becoming a member of the EMS workforce. These suggestions can enhance your learning experience and help you get the most benefit from your efforts to become an EMS professional.
Embrace the change
From the first to the last day of class, every day will be about change. Every time you learn something new, you will change. Students who embrace the changes will find themselves seeking more opportunities to educate themselves and ways to challenge their learning abilities. They will have started on the path of lifelong learning. They realize that they know more today than they did yesterday, but less than they will tomorrow.
Follow the rules
School can be good preparation for working in EMS. When starting a new EMS job, you’ll be expected to follow the rules; the same applies to attending school. Don’t think you can set your own rules or that academic guidelines don’t apply to you. Within the training program, someone will be watching you, seeing if you fit in and are able to be a part of the class—and the same will happen within an EMS agency.
Be on time
One of the rules is to show up on time for class. Punctuality says a lot about your commitment to the program and your respect for the instructors. On occasion, you may get stuck in traffic or have an emergency that prevents you from arriving on time. But such delays should be rare; don’t make a habit of arriving five minutes late for class. Set your schedule to give yourself plenty of time to make it school early and be ready at the start of class.
And when you show up on time, leave your baseball cap in the car. Casual attire may have been OK in high school or maybe in your current job, but T-shirts with logos or blue jeans with holes should be reserved for your personal time. In class, dress a step up from casual. You don’t need to wear your best jacket and slacks, but your clothes should demonstrate that you care about being seen as a professional.
Make time to study
Students who expect to show up at class and be passively taught everything are missing the point of being a student. Class is where an instructor shares with you the highlights of the material you are studying. No instructor can teach you all the knowledge you need to function as an EMT or a paramedic. As the student, you must spend as much time as possible reading and studying the course material. Learning means being involved in your own education and not just listening to an instructor talk. Learning means you’re able to talk about the new knowledge and share your experiences. It allows you to also take information from other students and apply it to your own development.
Study with someone
Find a study buddy or form a study group, and spend time outside of class learning with them. The more time you spend reading and discussing the course material, the more you’ll develop your approach to patient care and your understanding of prehospital emergency medicine. EMS is a team sport, and you are only as strong as your team members. Working and studying with them makes everyone better.
Practice, practice, practice
In the case of EMS skills, practice and a great deal more practice does make you better. The technical skills an individual needs as an EMT and as a paramedic are crucial in helping sick and injured patients. You perfect those skills only by practicing them over and over, until you can do them without really thinking of all the steps. You don’t proficiently learn how to take a blood pressure or other vital sign by performing it only once; you must practice it again and again.
Improve your writing skills
While in school, work on your writing skills. A great deal of your life as an EMS professional will involve complete and accurate documentation of your patient care and treatment. It does you little good if you can perform all the technical skills but cannot provide a clear, concise written patient care report.
Improve your speaking skills
Along with improving your writing skills, you must be able to communicate clearly. Especially important is your ability to speak with your patients and other medical professionals, such as physicians and nurses. Take every opportunity during your class presentations to enhance your speaking skills and to get feedback on ways to improve.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Making a mistake means you learned one way not to do something or, in some cases, 10 ways not to do something. But mistakes really mean that you’re making an effort, and so many times it’s the people who never make an effort who don’t succeed.
The final two tips will make a major impact on your studies and ultimately your success:
Have a good attitude
Hopefully, you’re getting into EMS for the right reasons. If your instructor asked you to write a paper on why you want to be an EMT or paramedic, what would you write? A number of students list their reason to become a paramedic as the only way to get hired at a fire department. Is your commitment to EMS as strong as your commitment to becoming a firefighter? Do you come to class every day looking forward to learning something new and to putting another piece of the EMS puzzle together? Or are you counting the days until you’re finished and believe you won’t ever need to study again? Even when you’re having a bad day at school, how you handle negativity and challenges demonstrates your ability to make a difference as an EMS worker.
Remember the little things
As in most things in life, it’s the little things that matter. If you can’t get the little things correct, how can your instructors and eventually your supervisors expect you to do the big things right? For example, perhaps you don’t really feel the need to check your monitor at the start of your shift. It’s always worked and the crew before you reported they didn’t have any calls. One morning, you get a call for the cardiac arrest of a 25-year-old female. When you arrive on scene and begin to hook up your monitor, it beeps once and goes dead. Switching batteries doesn’t help, and nothing you do can get it to work. That little thing you thought was too little to bother with came back in a big way. So it’s important to pay attention to your learning and know that skipping over a small detail can have a big effect later. The same principle applies to your learning. Skipping a small step in your learning could have a big impact on your knowledge and skills later in your career.
Learning is work, and it takes effort
Becoming trained as an EMT or paramedic is difficult. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would do. The amount of time, energy and effort you take in your education and learning is directly related to your success in becoming a successful EMS professional.
About the Author
David S. Becker, MA, EMT-P, has been a paramedic for 28 years, holds a master's degree in Health Service Management and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program. He is the EMS program director at Sanford-Brown College in St. Louis, Mo. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.