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Be the best partner you can be

5 ways a good partner can make the shift go more smoothly and improve patient and provider safety

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I was recently out walking my dog and listening to Mike Rowe’s “The way I heard it” podcast where he was interviewing best-selling author and former Navy Seal Jack Carr. The episode is quite thought-provoking, and it caught my attention early on when Carr said that during his Navy career, he was driven to “always be learning and always be improving” because he owed it to the guys to his right and left. It struck me how much this also applies to EMS partners.

We encourage EMS providers to be life-long learners and that is usually followed by the wisdom that you owe it to your patients. I would challenge that we also owe it to our partners to be the best partner we can be. Whether you have a regular, long-term coworker or if you are paired with different people each shift, you need to be able to count on your partner and they on you.

Let me start by listing some of the important ways a partner contributes to a well-run call, and then in my next article, I will highlight a few simple ways you can take steps toward becoming a better partner.

1. Safety

The obvious one is safety. Whether it is out on a dark highway or walking through a private residence, at least one pair of eyes needs to be watching out for scene hazards including blood and bodily fluids, unexpected sharps, unstable vehicles, slippery surfaces, weapons or persons on scene who may not have your best interests in mind. An ever-observant partner that does not get tunnel-vision on patient care is important to avoid harm when you least expect it. Some EMS teams designate a hands-on provider who is focused on patient care and a hands-off provider who stays a step back, watching out for safety while setting up equipment, operating the cardiac monitor, etc. Obviously, there are times when both partners have to be at the patient’s side, but you get the idea.


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2. The scene story

While the hands-off partner is stepping back and watching for scene safety, they can also be gathering important details about the scene for the partner focusing on patient care. For trauma scenes, mechanism of injury details should be recorded while other scenes may include information about the safety or cleanliness of the patient’s home, the presence of medication containers, alcohol bottles or drug paraphernalia. Do the details of the scene match the story the patient is telling? This partner can also be interviewing family members and other witnesses.

3. Patient care decisions

In many crews, partners take turns being the primary care provider, maybe every other call or each shift. If you are paired with a partner that is a different license level than yourself, maybe the assessment and interventions that the patient requires will determine which partner takes lead. Regardless, just because you are not “in charge” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to speak up if your partner is missing an important assessment clue or is headed down a potentially incorrect treatment pathway. There are many factors and details that go into making care decisions and one person may not be able to gather them all, especially at a fast-moving emergency scene. Speaking up is the right thing for the patient and the best way to have your partner’s back.

4. Lifting and carrying

Now it is time to move the patient. Whether picking them up off the floor for a return to bed or to move them to the ambulance, your partner is going to count on you to do your part to safely get the patient where they need to go. Additionally, a savvy partner will be piecing together everything they’ve observed about the patient and the scene to have a plan to move the patient and be ready when the time comes. What equipment will be needed? Should you call for additional lifting help? What is the best route through the building to avoid sharp corners, narrow doors, steep steps or mushy flooring? Partners also need to be on the same page to perform the physical lift. Good communication is important to implement a safe plan, lift at the same time and react together when the lift does not go as intended.

5. Driving the ambulance

I am certainly not the first person to mention the importance of good driving skills, but since I know some folks still haven’t gotten the message, it bears repeating. It is probably safe to say that not too many EMTs and medics like being called “ambulance drivers,” but operating the ambulance well really is an important skill. Getting to and from calls safely cannot be overstated and providing comfortable transport to the patient is part of helping your partner provide good care. Every EMT and paramedic should take a turn riding on the cot while the ambulance is driven around town. You will gain a new appreciation for how every bump, turn and hard stop feels to the patient. Factor in the pain or discomfort and worry they may already be feeling from their condition, and you can quickly see why good driving is an important partner skill.

Hopefully the partners you work with check all these boxes. Having a good partner can certainly make the shift go more smoothly. Likewise, are you a good partner to your team members? As they say on the other side of the pond, are you a favorite “mate” for the people with whom you share an ambulance?

Next time we’ll explore ways you can work towards being a better partner.

Stay safe out there.

Michael Fraley has over 30 years of experience in EMS in a wide range of roles, including flight paramedic, EMS coordinator, service director and educator. Fraley began his career in EMS while earning a bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University. He also earned a BA in business administration from Lakeland College. When not working as a paramedic or the coordinator of a regional trauma advisory council, Michael serves as a public safety diver and SCUBA instructor in northern Wisconsin.