Advice for Students
If you’re reading this, you’re probably about to embark on a journey to becoming a Paramedic. A journey that will take several years of your life to complete. One involving little sleep, little free time, and a lot of caffeine. You might be thinking, "What did I get myself into? How am I going to do this?”
You’re not alone! This is a typical reaction for an EMT/Paramedic student, as EMS education is traditionally the first post-high school education EMS students have been exposed to (Exceptions notwithstanding. I see you, biology majors!). It was for me. I had no idea what to expect. I also didn’t know how to be a student. I phoned my way through high school and learned how to be an electrician on the job. Naturally, I was very fearful when beginning my EMS education.
That fear dissipated very quickly. I excelled in EMT/Paramedic school, and I carried a love of learning with me into the field. I also became invested in student riders assigned to me. And while most our days were spent interpreting ECG’s, discussing pathophysiology, and honing physical skills, there were also plenty of opportunities to discuss their lives as a student.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what EMS students struggle with. A vast majority are working and going to school. Many have families and obligations at home. They're struggling with fatigue and difficulty in focusing. They're also drinking from a firehose when it comes to the amount of information one needs to learn in the amount of time available to learn it. In my years of observations, I've begun to recognize the patterns and habits (both good and bad) of EMS students, as well as understanding the components of EMS education that they identify as confounders to their progress. I've formed opinions in response to these patterns and trends, and over the years, I've shared these observations in both short and long-form. I'm doing my best to organize some of these thoughts and corral them into my very first blog. Please know that these are only my observations, and not necessarily expert opinion.
My experience as a student and as a preceptor & mentor to many students is that the classroom in and of itself can be and often is a stumbling block to students. The reasons are varied, but here are the most common:
· Death by PowerPoint
· Issues with instructors
· Argumentative/distracting/time-wasting students
· The pacing of the program (Moving on without full comprehension)
Let's acknowledge, first and foremost, that there are issues students have with programs and instructors that can not be glossed over or fixed with only increased effort by the student. With that being said- my perception and experience have been that there is often a lack of understanding on the student's behalf as to how adult education works. The most significant component of that misunderstanding is placing too high of a premium on classroom learning. Here’s a breakdown of the way I see the classroom and how I have approached it.
· I am my teacher. Owning this concept ensures no teacher or instructor can stand in the way of achieving my educational goals.
· I cannot achieve my educational goals if I do not have any.
· The classroom is not where new information is learned. It is where further information is reinforced and expanded on. Generally, new information is distributed through the class curriculum via textbooks, which are expected to be read before class.
· If you want to want to make things easy, read your required chapters twice before class. You don't have to underline or highlight everything. You don't have to understand all of it. But getting two looks at the material before class is incredibly beneficial.
· I am going to be enthusiastic about my classroom time when I have it. I will not waste that time, or let others waste it. I will also request that the instructor not waste my time by holding them accountable for avoiding and shutting down unproductive time sponges (Argumentative or distracting students, the introduction of politics, or real word distractors, etc.).
In looking at my situation, I was looking at several years of education and training that would undoubtedly compromise the time I spent with my family. It would also guarantee that when I was with my family, I wasn't at my best. I could accept that. That's the price of doing business when you're pursuing a long-term goal. What I could not accept was getting to the end and not succeeding, which would have been time stolen from them rather than time invested in the future happiness and security of our family. With that in mind, and with what I have concluded from my time spent with fellow students and students that I have since precepted and mentored:
· I may claim that it is hard to make time to read, study, and do homework/projects. We are all wishing there were more hours in a day. But if I am honest with myself, I am forced to admit that there is often time to study, and I simply don’t prioritize it or claim it.
· I will benefit greatly by taking advantage of cognitive offloads. Rote memorization is the ballast that anchors a balloon. The heaviest of which are my medications. Getting the list before class and memorizing them will free me to do more critical thinking during the course.
· I must be innovative in finding ways to absorb information. Leaving flashcards on my dashboard and reading one of them aloud whenever I start the car, stop the vehicle, and turn off the car is one of many fantastic study hacks.
· I must respect what is at stake in not fully applying myself to this field of study- that may impact on a person's health, and that a person’s health and well-being will be affected by my actions.
I don't think that there would be much disagreement on what some of the more trying or frustrating aspects of clinicals are, whether they be field or hospital clinicals. You're trapped in the back of the ambulance with an inability to conveniently communicate with the crew. Preceptors ignore you or seem too busy to bother with you. Your preceptor expects you to know what they know. I had almost exclusively positive clinical experiences. I also try to make them a positive experience for students who ride with me. Here are some of my insights into clinicals:
· I need to remember the concept that I am my teacher. And in the case of clinicals- my own advocate. Many of my preceptors have no experience in teaching, tutoring, or mentoring, and they are content to allow me to exist in the truck or unit simply. If I ask questions or find ways to engage them, my experience will be exponentially better.
· I’m probably burning my candle at both ends (And in the middle) between work, school, and clinicals. If I’m burned out, I need to communicate this to my preceptor. They understand. I understand. If you tell me, your preceptor, that this is day 9 of 10 consecutive 12-hour days for you and you desperately need just to burn hours today, I'm going to do everything I can to prevent this ride from taxing you.
· I should offer feedback on my preceptors. I accept that not every Paramedic wants or should have students. But if I don't speak up for myself, my situation will not improve. I need to find out the proper avenue for offering that feedback and submit if freely. I will not allow my time to be wasted. Not all preceptors are compatible with all students. I’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences with students, but I’ve also had complaints. I value the feedback!
· In hospital clinicals, I should use the time I'm spending with physicians and take full advantage of it. I'm going to be their new best friend. I'm going to ask questions. Lots of questions. Good questions. Dumb questions. Questions that I don't even know how to ask! I will not only be rewarded with knowledge, but over the long haul, I'll be rewarded with their respect.
· I will find greater success, not just in my clinicals, but in my career, if I insulate myself from toxic personalities. Personalities that will (intentionally or otherwise) attempt to jade me towards various aspects of the profession. I cannot tolerate one ounce of vitriol that comes out of their mouths. I need to surround myself with the lovers of knowledge, the compassionate souls, and the people in love with their profession. I also need to find a role model to emulate until I've settled into my comfort zone.
I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about testing. I get as frustrated with the way test questions are structured as the next person does. But I also don’t struggle with testing the way others do. In that respect, I won’t patronize anyone by speaking to that. There are people on the educational side of things that have professional experience with poor test-takers, and they may have tools to help you prepare for that experience if you share your struggles with them. With that said, I'll begin the following few insights with a challenge to be honest with myself when it comes to testing:
· Am I willing to perform an accurate assessment of my efforts in the course? Do my test scores align with that effort? Am I looking for something to make a lack of success more palatable?
· I will become INCREDIBLY frustrated with some of the test questions I will encounter of the years of exams I will take in my EMS education (And career). The answers will cause me to lose sleep. I will feel as if I have been TRICKED. I will feel ROBBED of a higher score. What is going to be a bitter pill for me to swallow is that the quizzes and tests I take in these courses, while intended to assess whether or not I have a firm enough grasp on the material to advance, are also, in and of themselves teaching tools. Some questions ARE designed to trick me. They are designed to upset me. They are designed to reinforce a concept that may be one of the more frequent concepts that are overlooked or disregarded by students and newcomers to the field. Once that one question pisses me off and steals my 100%, I will ALWAYS remember the concept it was trying to teach me. This will even make sense to me if someone explains it. But I'll still feel burned. This is where test designers are like, "Sorry, not sorry…"
· An early effort in rote memorization will be my friend in class, but it won't be my super-power when taking the registry. I shouldn't let that discourage me. I'm getting some of that rote memorization out of the way early so I can focus on the critical thinking that will serve me when it's time to test. While knowing that the excess production of red blood cells in COPD is called secondary polycythemia might score me fewer questions on the registry exam, not knowing when to administer bronchodilators will cost me everything. My critical thinking matters in this exam. Knowing when to stay and play V Load and go is essential.
· I need to remember that I will most likely never be as ready to take the registry as I am immediately following being released to do so. I’ve been hardwired for several years to process this information at a high level. Every day that I wait involves a deterioration of my knowledge base.
· The day before, my more critical exams shouldn't be spent cramming. I should eat well the day before, exercise, and get a good night's sleep. I'll be better served by increased mental acuity rather than cram-session fatigue.
If you're getting ready to begin your course, or are still in your path, I hope this benefits you in some small way. If you have feedback on any (Whether that be from an instructor, student, preceptor, or otherwise), I'd love to hear it! Contact me via Facebook, Twitter (@EMSAvenger), or e-mail (Jimmy@EMSAvenger.com).
Jimmy Apple - Paramedic