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Oh No!! An Observer!

Posted Jan 20 2011 2:32pm

It’s a simple sentence, with no particular threat to it at all, yet for some medics it is like giving them notification of some horrendous impending doom.

“Joe, you have an observer coming out with you today”


They are not half as common as they used to be. There was once a time where anyone with an interest in becoming an ‘Ambulance Driver’ was welcomed to come along for a day and see what the job was really like and if it was going to be for them. I have been known to have discussions with patients relatives who have asked questions about getting into being a paramedic, which has resulted in them turning up on my station a few weeks later to spend a shift or two with me on the ambulance or on the rapid response car. All that was required was a signature on a confidentiality agreement and a health and safety form and we were off!

Things have changed. Some are necessary for the protection of our patients and one that I agree with is having someone prove that they have had a background check done and are ‘safe’ to have access to individuals at their most vulnerable state.

Other things just seem to get in the way from allowing truly interested members of the community from finding out if the possible career choice or move is really for them, before they take the plunge.

Most observers these days consist of people who are waiting to start their student paramedic training (after gaining a place) or members of the affiliated services, mostly mountain rescue and the coast guard.

What hasn’t changed is the attitude of a large proportion of medics who see the presence of an observer as another factor to get in the way of their down time or ‘relax time’ through the quiet times of the shift (as rare as they may be becoming).

I agree that having an observer out for the shift can make the day a little more of an effort. Where you would normally go into autopilot and just ‘do’, you now have to think about explaining things and answering questions. You need to develop the ‘third eye’ so that you can keep an a look out on your observer as well as the patient, your crew mate, family members, bystanders and the environment.

Your observer’s safety is your responsibility, and it isn’t one that should be taken lightly. Simple things like checking the vehicle at the start of the shift, take longer as you go through what is on the vehicle and what it is used for. Discussions need to be had about the observers experience and how much/little do they want to be involved in certain aspects of the patient experience, and what you expect from them.

After checking the vehicle, if you are fortunate enough to have time for some breakfast or a cup of coffee, you now have to make polite conversation and try to make the observer feel part of the team.

As the supervising medic, it is your responsibility to be honest, but enthusiastic about what being a paramedic is like. I have seen some poor observers, who have been lumped with medics who really don’t even want to be in the job themselves. I bet you can guess what experience the observer had on that shift!

When I take an observer out with me, I want them to go home at the very least, thinking what an amazing experience they have had. They will most likely not have seen trauma and death and all the big jobs, but they will most definitely have seen a paramedic who is passionate about what he does and the patients that he cares for.

They will have spent time with a paramedic who is striving to be the best that he can be clinically and professionally, and they will go home knowing that if they want to be a good paramedic, it is going to take hard work and dedication.

They will also get a feel for the hardships of the job too.

I have no problems in re telling the ‘bad jobs’, but it may surprise them to hear that it wasn’t the patient decapitated by the train or the fatal RTC; rather the middle aged man who looked into my eyes and told me that he was about to die and asked me to say goodbye to his children for him. They will know that I still think about him and that when I do, my eyes still fill with tears.

They will know that as far as being a profession, we are still a long way off, but we are getting there. Politics is part of the job at a government level, but also at the ground level. Politics between management and staff, and politics between medics.

If you are passionate, you will stand out, and sometimes not in a good way. It still surprises me to see that it isn’t ‘cool’ to care deeply about what you do.

Most of all though, I want my observer to come away from a shift thinking

“Yes, that’s the job for me”.

Just like Francesca did……

Below is an email I received two days ago. To say it made me feel good is an understatement. It is reproduced with the kind permission of Francesca herself.

“Hi Mark,

You probably won’t remember me, but a few years ago you took me out in a rapid response car for a couple of days observing.  It was the kick-start to me actually getting around to trying to get into the ambulance service.  As of October 2010 I am now a qualified paramedic.  I love going to work.  You played a big part in me actually doing it.  I just wanted to thank you.

Kind regards,

Francesca “

Do you want to play a part in jump-starting someone’s career in EMS?

All you have to do is be a role model. Show your observers that if you put the effort in you will be rewarded in the long run.

Yes, it’s a tough job at times, but as I say to everyone who asks me if I like doing my job?

“Yup, it is the best job in the world!”

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