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Preceptor Principles: Don’t Just Survive, Thrive

Why do people go to college? Or university? Or enroll in any other form of post-secondary education? Why did you? Were you the first in your family to go? Was there pressure from your parents to go because they wanted you to be whatever it is/was that they are/were such as a doctor or lawyer? Maybe you really had no idea in high school and just tried to find something that fit your personality. “Oh, that looks like fun! Let’s give that a try!” I’ve heard that one from students myself who simply wanted to do something fun that came with an adrenaline rush. For many other students, it’s been because they have had some type of exposure to emergency services while they were growing up and have naturally gravitated towards the career. Making the initial decision to pursue this career at the post-secondary level is the easy part. Succeeding is a whole other story.

Setting Goals

Many inspirational books or articles that have been written talk about setting goals as a way to keep a person’s motivational levels high for a prolonged, if not indefinite period of time. Setting goals is something that can work for anyone because it can be applied to any setting, or any endeavor, big or small. A person can go as big as setting goals for their lives, or they can go as small as setting a goal to pick up milk on the way home from work. New students entering a paramedicine program can do themselves a favour by thinking about their future and setting out some goals, both short term and long. They should also think about why they are doing what they are doing. What is the purpose?

After the initial goal of just being accepted into college has been accomplished, many short-term goals will automatically kick in for all students. If you’re moving you have to find a place to stay. If you’re staying at home, you have to have reliable transportation to school. Tuition needs to be paid, books need to be bought and a reliable, quiet workspace needs to be created for you to work and study.

That is for all students. But what about paramedic students in particular? What short term goals should they focus on? Short term goals for first year paramedic students revolve around acceptance and open mindedness. First year students need to accept that they are going to be BOMBARDED with information in the first semester of school and for most of these students, surviving (aka – passing) is the goal. This is understandable. No one wants to pay so much of their, or their parent’s money and have it completely go to waste. To prevent that from happening, everyone needs to start with an open mind that help may be needed along the way and there is no shame in asking for it.

He was not my preceptor, but a number of years ago I knew a paramedic who loved to throw out the comment “Keep it simple stupid.” He always found ways in situations or conversations to get the last word in and he would use this phrase to continuously make his point. To the other veterans he worked with it was more than annoying. The younger, more impressionable that were around him however could not help but have that phrase implanted in their brain because of how often he repeated it. He was someone who very inadvertently helped me mature in my thought processes. He helped me to develop the wherewithal to look past a personality when I needed to, in order to understand what that person was trying to say. Once in school, set a goal of listening to everyone you come in contact with. There is a lot to be learned from just doing that.

Answering the question ‘Why am I taking this program?”, will lead you into being able to set long term goals for yourself. You may not know the answer to this question at the beginning of the program, but you should know the answer by the end. As mentioned earlier, there will be enough on your mind at the start of the program and you will have to stay within each and every learning moment in order to be successful. However, if/when it becomes clear that you are doing just fine and will graduate, thinking about the future will become necessary. It does not mean you have to act on those goals immediately. Everyone lives life at their own pace. But setting your goals and having one eye on the future will help to stay motivated for success.

Give Yourself a Chance

There are three key factors that can and will make the difference between success and failure of a paramedic student. Time management, work ethic, and a proper attitude towards advice and learning.

Time management is all about work/life balance. In the regular workforce, having an even work/life balance has become a much talked about and more important issue over the past decade. Work used to be everything and people would fit in their hobbies around work. Today there is so much stress related burn out, especially within the health care workforce that workers are demanding that employers make compromises and allow for a better balance. Employers are slowly learning that managing the workload and time on-the-job is now a critical factor in both the retention and overall success of their employees. Developing and using sound, consistent time management skills during school will kick start your ability to work as an effective, shift working paramedic.

Developing a fundamental work ethic ties in directly arm-in-arm with the development of your time management skills. If you can manage your time wisely throughout the course of an individual day, a week and even over the length of the program, that will lead to having a strong work ethic. If the proper work/life balance is created so enough down time, sleep and exercise are had then this will mean when you go to sit down to study, or practice a new skill or scenarios that you will have more energy and focus. An even amount of energy and focus over the course of your program will set you up for success at understanding the material at hand and obtaining competence, if not mastery of the studied skills.

What has been noted over time is that many students who have not been successful during their on-the-job-training (OJT) have completely taken for granted or simply ignored two very important areas and they both involve the art of listening. Yes, listening is an art and it is not one that is easily mastered by most. The main reason being too many tend to begin speaking before the person they are speaking with are finished what they are saying. It is a proven theory that you cannot listen and speak at the exact same time. Therefore, if you are speaking while someone else, such as your patient, is speaking you cannot actively hear and take in the information you are receiving. A skill every student must learn is to have patience after they ask a question and wait for the patient to answer prior to moving on to the next question. This is called a soft skill but is in fact extremely hard to master because so much of the learning that is done is focused, and rightfully so, on learning what questions to ask in the first place. The place where this, and other soft skills will be taught and learned is during the OJT, but only if the student has the proper attitude.

The proper attitude is one of open mindedness and the willingness to take in information from all sources. When a student is on their OJT they will have an almost endless supply of possibilities for obtaining information about how to do the job they are preparing for. They just have to look around, and be curious. The preceptors are the primary sources along with their regular partners, but other paramedics are always around as well. It should be encouraged by preceptors to seek out opinions of others and not just theirs as different points of view can be invaluable in the learning process. The veteran twenty-year paramedic who has seen so much may handle a situation very differently than a paramedic who has been out of school for two years. Do not be afraid to obtain both opinions. As someone new to the profession, there is something to be learned from each one. Nurses and doctors at the hospitals can be an excellent source for students as well. The clinical time is all about learning. They are there for you and will help you along the way.

These are some topics and issues that preceptors need to consider in order to help students manage their first exposures to the profession of paramedicine. While it is true that preceptors are not there to act as a student’s mother or father, they will have the most direct influence on the level of success that a student achieves during their schooling. If a paramedic does not truly care about the level of success of their student, then they should not be a preceptor. We do not just want our students to survive, we want them to thrive.

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