Are Good Practical Skills Enough?

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Since the inception of EMTs the big emphasis during the training has always been largely on caring for the physical needs of the patient and a little on the patient’s psychological needs. We work diligently on perfecting our patient assessment, splinting, spinal immobilization and CPR skills. Instructors make students be patients during practical skills sessions so they may have a better understanding of the patient’s perspective. Yet the one skill not taught nor practiced is empathy.

I never realized just how vital empathy is to a patient until I became the patient. Several years ago, I suffered a Widowmaker Heart Attack. At the time, I was experiencing 9 out 10 chest pains, that felt nothing like the textbooks described. I experienced a range of emotions from concern to outright fear and even the feeling of impending doom. I remember calling my wife to advise her of my situation, but in hindsight, the real reason I called was to say “I love you” one last time.

When the Medics arrived, as a good EMT, I gave them a complete report. Once on the monitor I asked if there were any ST elevations or changes to which the driver snapped “You do not need to know that.” His demeanor was cold and unkind. The tech chimed in “Yea, there are some elevations, but we’re going to take good care of you.” He was gentle, calm, and caring. At one point during the transport after receiving 2 Nitros with no relief and being offered Fentynol, I realized how severe my situation really was. I looked up at the medic and said “Donny, I am really scared.” He took my arm and said “I know, if I were in your shoes I would be scared too. But I am going to do everything I can and take good care of you.” His ability to empathize with me managed to bring down my stress level significantly.

Patients will not remember how good the provider’s assessment skills were. They won’t recall if you were extremely knowledgeable. They will not care if you graduated top in your EMT class. Their expectations are that you treat them accordingly and get them to a hospital. But they will remember how you treated them and how you made them feel. I can attest to this as I will never forget Donny not because his treatment was spot on, but more because of his extraordinary empathy and compassion which helped prevent my condition from possibly worsening.

Thank you so much Donny, I owe you my life.

Contributor: Dean Allen EMT I/C

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