When I first had this idea, I asked several people whom I respect what they thought about interviewing a Paramedic Manager and sharing those perspectives with our readers.
The people that I spoke to felt that maybe if I interviewed a manager on their way out that I might get some honest answers, but they all felt that that Managers are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. A significant issue for those who are not protected by a union.
I think that I was able to find someone with honest answers, and an inspiring vision. So, I would like to thank my anonymous source for this article.
With all that is going on in the world and in the middle of the 100th? wave of the pandemic, why would you want to take on such a high-pressure position?
I don’t see it as a high-pressure job. The role of the Manager is the least high pressure. My role is to support paramedics, and they have all the pressure.
I get to create my schedule and do what is needed for my area. As a paramedic we are always dealing with the unknown and schedules can be chaotic for families. As a Manager I get to ask questions, and support people in their growth and decision-making processes.
I field phone calls; I just have a discussion and help them figure things out for themselves. My view is that the Managers role is an educational one. I just give crews ideas on how to navigate new or unique situations for themselves.
If you help support people to do their Job, your job actually becomes easier.
When the pandemic started, it was all about making new standard operating procedures, finding ways to get them rest breaks and cleaning time. It was about supporting and protecting the workplace, educating them on when they could work safely and when they needed to stay home. Some of the algorithms weren’t in the best interest of the organization initially. There was guidance for people having symptoms to come to work. We had to re-think that specific guidance and realize that it was better for the individual paramedic and the organization for them to stay home in some situations. We had to take a long-term view as opposed to staffing the car that day.
How do you hope that the role of the EMS manger can evolve?
Being available and present is important. People say, “I don’t ever see the manager unless I’m in shit.” That needs to change.
They should be excited to have that opportunity to discuss the issues and what they see as solutions. The subject matter experts are the people doing the job. They have some really good ideas, and in most cases, know what the solutions are. I think the front-line staff, they need to drive the change.
Increased integration into health care is important. For example, I was recently in a multidisciplinary meeting discussing the opioid crisis. I met with hospital administrators, police, and others. There were lots of different perspectives.
Paramedics have a unique perspective, and we often fill the gaps. I feel that we can help other professions understand how the people on the street feel and what they need.
Creating Naloxone kits was a start, but we need to do something pro-actively. My personal view is that we need to take this into the schools. The party program was a big success. I remember going into schools every year and having discussions with teenagers about drinking and driving. A kid recognized me in the grocery store the other day and said, “I remember you; the ‘Party Program’ changed my choices when I was young”.
I think if we prevent them from becoming addicted in the first place, we have a chance. Maybe we need to encourage recovered addicts to come in and share some of their stories. Maybe we need to do more to make sure that kids know how to access mental health and community supports.
I feel that we should be teaching them about resiliency at a very young age.
Shouldn’t that meeting have had educators and social workers there as well?
I’m not sure if I have the ability. I’ll put ideas out and see what is allowed. Maybe we don’t have the capacity right now. Maybe all we’re able to do is plant some seeds. Maybe this is something that starts out driven by our paramedics like the Party Program. Maybe some paramedics are willing and able to spend a couple of hours of their time. Maybe a pilot project. A few years ago, we went into the high school, and we staged a scenario of a drug overdose. It was quite realistic and detailed the treatments. There were paramedics and a doctor involved and it really made a big impression.
What advice would you give to someone starting out that wanted to become a Paramedic Manager?
That’s an interesting question and I can only speak about my own journey. It depends on what your natural abilities are. I started out as a paramedic and that was the job for me. Then I got to teach paramedics and I loved every minute of it. Eventually, I went into a leadership position, and I got to support and teach new employees. I spent a bunch of time and effort in becoming the very best I could be at each level. Once someone finds that passion, they need out figure out what they can do to make it happen. There is an evolving understanding that successful teams need balance. You may not be great with spreadsheets and finance, but you have fantastic communications skills, or you may be passionate about patient care and technical aspects of the job. Everyone has something to offer, and we need people who care a lot to get involved.
What are the biggest challenges that you face professionally in your role?
Paramedicine is one of the least sought-after jobs right now. My challenge is to try to understand what gets people interested in becoming a paramedic and what we can do to retain them. What are their biggest concerns, why are they leaving and what draws them away from us and into a different profession?
What are the biggest challenges that you face personally in your role?
Patience. I want to make a lot of changes and I want to show appreciation and make sure we are supporting crews, but I know I have to be patient with the process. I noticed that during the pandemic every time we made changes, we created new unintended issues that needed to be fixed. For example, some said ‘just make everyone full time’ – bit many don’t want that. They like the flexibility of being part time. There’s an often-used quote in healthcare that our situation is like flying at 30,000 feet struggling to maintain altitude and correcting issues at the same time.
What are you exited about?
I want to find solutions and start a trial to address the staffing issues. Our retention rates are terrible, and we need to find a way to provide our paramedics with a fair income and a reasonable lifestyle.
Do you have concerns?
Yes. My biggest concern is that I might not have enough time to do the job the way I want to do it and in a way that I can get things done. I’m also concerned that I may not have enough support from above to initiate changes.
What is the most important thing that you can do to support your crews?
I need to meet with the crews in my area once a week. They need to get to know me and be able to trust me, so I need to see them. I might only get to see one 10th of the workforce on any given visit and that’s not enough. We need to change the mindset and make sure that these people feel supported.
It really is just about supporting people in the way that they deserve to be supported. It’s really about a vison for the future. Identifying solutions and then deciding what steps we need to take to get there. I want to change the culture and discuss the issues instead of just sitting around complaining.
I want to really truly be present and listen to them and make sure they feel supported.
OK, last question. What’s the most important thing that your crews can do to support you?
Two things. First of all, I hope they can be patient. I have a lot to learn and many different pieces to wrap my head around. And secondly, I need to know what they need from me.
Some crews still see me as the bad guy, but we need to change that and that is a cultural shift.
In the days following this interview I reached out to some of my friends and contacts in the industry and asked how this article would land for people.
I wondered about the potential impact on Managers.
One strong opinion was that things needed to be more employee focussed. Unbelievably, there are still too many examples of very bad decisions, and some organizations still follow outdated management practices. In fairness, Managers have had a very difficult time lately. Just as the crews on the street have had to adapt and overcome, Mangers in Canada have had the same challenges while being under supported, undersupplied, and underfunded.
EMS Management is a critical component in providing high quality patient care and I feel that managing our recovery from the recent series of events will inform Academic Curriculums for the next hundred years.
The drug catastrophe, the pandemic and the general volatility in the world have put all of us in positions of leadership. We have some difficult decisions moving forward.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope we will all be judged well by those who come after us.