Why a personal connection opens your mind to the patient as a person

EMS providers are more than personal space invaders. The connections we form with the patient can be the key to creating an environment of healing


In Providence, Rhode Island, the fire department handles EMS. The EMS division operates within the structure of the rest of the department, is quartered in the same stations and the personnel are trained the same way. Every person who works primarily on the ambulances is capable of fire duty but chooses to focus on treating and transporting people.

I became a firefighter because I love the idea of responding to emergencies, especially ones that involved life hazards. As a firefighter, I became part of a team of like-minded individuals, all with similar skills honed by our training.

Each of us also possessed our own special talent that, when combined with the rest, created a formidable force. Together we fought fires, stopped gas leaks, extricated people from horrific wrecks, pulled victims from waterways and responded to any and all emergencies.

Transporting and treating sick and injured people is a specialized skill. Just about anybody can do it, but not everybody can do it well. (Photo/USAF)
Transporting and treating sick and injured people is a specialized skill. Just about anybody can do it, but not everybody can do it well. (Photo/USAF)

I learned quickly that even the greatest firefighters needed the rest of the department to thrive. Some of us possess superhuman strength; others solve complex hydraulic problems in their head and can squeeze properly pressurized water from rusty old pumps. We have people who can talk a suicidal person off a ledge, and others who can scale a wall and take them down.

Some lead, some follow; nobody gets out of the way. Every part of the firefighting machine is vital to the overall efficiency on every job, and EMS is a vitally important part of every fire department whether or not they handle transport.

The people made EMS my home

I found my home in EMS after 10 years on the trucks. I was a good firefighter but as time progressed and my strengths and weaknesses became evident, I realized I had the potential to be very good at EMS.

Transporting and treating sick and injured people is a specialized skill. Just about anybody can do it, but not everybody can do it well. Being a people person helps considerably. People fascinate me, and I had ample opportunity to be fascinated while responding to 911 calls as a medic rather than a firefighter.

In EMS, I discovered how the strengths I possessed could be best utilized to make everybody involved in call benefit from my involvement, especially the patient. By observing how people react to communication I found a way to create an environment that played a part in the betterment of my patient’s experience with us, and radiated outward, eventually reaching more people than I ever imagined.

It was simple, really. All I did was look at the patient, find something likeable and of interest other than their illness or injury, recognize that observation either out loud or in my head and allow myself and my patient the luxury of connection.

To experience a connection, open your mind to the other person. What makes us human does the rest. We establish eye contact, our facial muscles contract to show what we are feeling and our voice conveys that message.

Connection bridges the space between provider and patient

Human beings follow unwritten rules regarding personal space, and we all pretty much subscribe to them. Touch between strangers is weird, and most of us agree that at least 18 inches separation is essential. No can do in EMS; we are personal space invaders. We can make that intrusion palatable by establishing trust before we move in.

I like to believe that by establishing a comfortable patient-provider relationship, everybody involved in that patient’s care benefits, especially the patient. If the first person in what becomes a lengthy chain of providers establishes trust, the rest of the experience has a far better chance to go well.

Much like the fire department that needs every member to be part of the team, the team of people providing care to the patient; first the firefighters, then the medics, maybe the police, the nurses at triage, the ER technician, the person handling transport, admissions, security, radiology, the doctor ... each and every one of us plays a vital role in the patient’s overall satisfaction.

When the first person in the chain gets things rolling in a positive direction, the rest have a far better chance of following suit. A patient that presents at the ER defensive, hostile and demanding will not be treated the same as the patient who – even though are in pain and suffering – feels understood and taken care of.

We are healthcare providers, but as EMS providers, we have the potential to provide far more. Just as misery loves company, contentment is contagious. Every one of us possesses to ability to make a personal connection, which creates an environment conducive to healing.

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