Caregiver = Competence + Kindness


“Medicine isn’t about power or ego. It’s about people, reaching out to us as friends on the worst days of their lives.” – Patch Adams

Medic Nerd logoIt will not take long or much effort to look around your department to find:

  • burned out medics
  • chronically grumpy & negative medics
  • medics who dislike and find no joy in certain, if not most, patients
  • medics who find justification and pleasure in starting large bore IV’s in the hands of drunk or nuisance patients (and then probably administer no fluids or meds either)
  • medics who believe their on-duty nap is priority over any call short of an MCI involving the players’ bus of their favorite sports team

You get the gist of who I am describing. Simply put, many medics in our profession are negative and are not kind…especially not kind to their patients. I am sure that you have already formed a list of medics in your head who fit that description. Perhaps an honest look in the mirror may put yourself on that list…nah, certainly not you or me!!!

Click here for Medic Nerd StoreHow does a brand new eager enthusiastic medic evolve into such a cold-hearted, unkind drag on our profession? I have read and heard all kinds of theories to answer that question:

  • we hire the wrong type of people
  • department management/leadership is horrible
  • 24 hour shifts burn out medics
  • system status management burns out medics
  • low salaries force medics to work multiple jobs, therefore fatigue sets in
  • witnessing system abuse by non-emergent patients
  • blah blah blah blah blah…

Maybe it is all of the above or none of the above. Honestly, I do not know. I do know that it is not good for us as individuals. It is not good for our industry. It is certainly not good for our patients and the communities we serve.

It is not enough to be competent; nor is it enough to be kind. We need to be both competent and kind. Furthermore, I do not believe you can fake either one for very long.

Admittedly, EMS training (both pre-employment and on-going) is focused on improving clinical skill and competence. A reading of any EMS job opening or promotion requirements will undoubtedly list the expected certifications and education. This is good! Our profession needs to emphasize and even crescendo its demand for higher-level clinical skill.


To accurately describe ourselves as caregivers, we must practice our skill with a heart of kindness. To do otherwise is falling well short of our potential and insults the idea of EMS being a profession of public servants.

“Today I see my job not as a lifesaver, but as a comforter.” – Peter Canning

Let us take some time to look back in that mirror and examine ourselves. In what ways have I been unkind? What patients seem to get under my skin and really irritate me? Have there been times or circumstances when I traded in good clinical practice to maybe teach a patient a “lesson” for being a frequent flyer, a sloppy drunk, a criminal, or simply making my job more difficult? When have I been less than kind to a patient or anyone else on a scene?

If being unkind is a common occurrence for you in your practice, please resign or retire. The best thing you could do for EMS and your community, is to turn in your badge.

If being unkind is a rare occurrence for you, then great! Let us be mindful to make it even more rare. Start looking for ways to show kindness to our patients and others on scene.

  • hold a patient’s hand
  • make a balloon animal for a scared child
  • allow a rider in the back when feasible
  • speak more words of comfort and less words of judgement
  • hold the obnoxiously rude drunk college girl’s hair out of her face while she’s puking in a bag
  • look for opportunities to joke around, sing along, and laugh with your patients
  • physically get down to their level, meet them where they are
  • ignore your report writing a little and get more face-to-face time with your patients
  • smile a lot

Let us set an incredibly high standard of care, combining competence and kindness, and then push ourselves to exceed it daily, call by call.

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