Friday, 29 July 2011

It's Time

Sitting at the side of the road at one of my normal standby points, book in hand but completely failing to read any of it, it's obvious that the school holidays are finally in full swing. Children have been let off the leash, running around playing outside until much later in the evening than usual. Some ride up and down the pavement on their scooter, others play with a ball, whilst a few more chase each other screaming, shouting and laughing with the innocence of youth. Eventually, one comes over and taps on the window.

"Are you an ambulance?"

Some days earlier, our neighbour of several years moved out. It's unusual these days to know your neighbours well, and we were very lucky that not once did we have any problems between us. The day after she left, new people moved in; a family with young children. Them and my kids hit it off straight away, and became best friends within minutes. The first night shift I was due to work since they moved in was last night. It was the first time they saw me in uniform. As I was getting into the car, one of their kids came over.

"Are you a, errr... an, ummm... an ambulance?"

Regularly, at least several times a shift, as I pull up outside an address, someone will open the door, turn their head back towards the house, and announce my arrival.

"The ambulance is here!"

The last time I checked, I was not a vehicle; I did not have flashing lights on my head (although the bald patch reflecting in the moonlight might give that impression); and I definitely did not eat diesel as one of my five-a-day fruits and vegetables. So why is it that nobody seems to know who we are, what our title is, or, quite often, what we do?

A child seeing a police officer in uniform knows that they are a policeman. Or woman. They know that those working on a fire-engine are firemen. Or women. They know that the people walking around the hospitals with stethoscopes round their necks, whether or not they can pronounce stethoscope, are doctors, and that those in uniform who do most of the doctors' work in every department are nurses. So why is it that children rarely know who we are? A teacher is a teacher, not a school. An out-of-hours doctor on a home visit doesn't suddenly become a Ford Fiesta just by virtue of the fact that that's the car that carried him.

Partially, it's probably our own fault. We don't get out there enough, meeting the public who, until they desperately need us, are happy to forget that such things as ambulances, and those who man them, exist. We're not as cool as the fire-brigade or the police, we don't give off a sense of pride like doctors or nurses.

When was the last time you heard a child say they want to be a paramedic when they grow up? Except my youngest, that is, and he's slightly biased. A few weeks ago I went into my children's primary school and spoke to the top class as part of a "Careers Day". This group of ten and eleven-year-olds were shocked and amazed by who we are and what we do, some even expressed an interest in hearing and learning more about it. For them, it's early days. It took me until I was a lot older than ten to decide on my career path, but as a child the thought of being "an ambulance" was never one of the options. Now, for them, being a paramedic is another possibility to think about, another point on a list.

It's time we started promoting who we are and what we do. It's time we were proud of who we are, of what we do, of what our title is. It's time that our public relations included more than announcing facts and figures in the news, of smiling when we hit targets and hiding in shame when we don't. It's time that our knowledge and skills spoke for themselves, that our care and compassion are the name that walks before us. It's time for our job to be recognised for what it is, for us to be recognised for our job, and not for the vehicle that carries us.

At least, in the meantime, a group of holidaying kids, a bunch of my children's school friends and some new neighbours now know.


Net Masters said...

I can understand why the general public are 'confused', as there are so many varieties of 'greenies' out there. I personally feel a bit of a fraud as I wear the same uniform as emergency ambo crews despite the fact that I work in non emergency transport and am solely office based!

jen from amb control said...

i agree so much with this post....the ambulance service really need to promote who they are and what they now do..i think the public would be in for a shock...please keep the blog running ..its great ;-)

jen from amb control

Carl said...

I agree with Net Masters. Are you a paramedic or an EMT*? Is an EMT different to an ETA? What about PTAs? Are ETA and PTA even used anywhere outside of SJA?

Having said all that, I think what I've just done is argue in your favour. It's because there isn't more publicity around paramedics and their kin that we don't know the answers to those questions.

* I know *you're* a paramedic. I'm just saying as an example.

Carl (not a CFR, yet)

Anonymous said...

It is very true, the public very often don't have a clue about who we are and what we do, it doesn't seem to be enough to have 'Emergency Ambulance' written on the side (although as an aside the one I was on yesterday said 'Ambularce' which I found amusing all day). People have called me a doctor, a nurse, a paramedic, a driver, and some confused people even think we're policemen! Of course it doesn't help that 'student' is in my job title, causing even more confusion.

Patients often expect us to be able to prescribe medications so that they can stay at home or to stitch a wound for them. Many treat us as an out of hours doctor. Even GPs and some A+E doctors don't quite understand what we do or why we do it.

There is definately a lack of public understanding of what we do and we need to publicise it. Sadly there are some paramedics out there who see themselves as little more than taxi drivers, which certainly doesn't help matters. I think we all need to take pride in what we do the way that you do InsomniacMedic, you're a shining example to us all!

flobach said...

Like it. Needs to be addressed. Both from an individual level, and from a professional and political level.
Conicidentally, I was writing my own bit when I saw what you had was able to link it :-)

TAZ THE AMBO said...

Anonymous got it dead right. In my service we are all Paramedics on our epaulette's now except for the Intensive Care Paramedics but I can still be called driver, Dr, nurse and more on the same job. My management also want me to sulk around when off duty going to and from work covering my uniform a not being proud of what I am.

Anonymous said...

Where I work we give s small discount
to the emergency services, so even though we get paid s*d all it's good to know that the big man appreciates you all
I wonder if the thing about covering up the uniform goes back to the days when nurses were not allowed outside in uniform for hygeine reasons
Great post IM as always
best wishes

arban70 said...

Insomniac Medic is absolutely correct. One must remember that language plays a significant roles in communicating ideas, principles, philosophies and policies ... and cultures ....
and I have long argued the need to change the terminology in paramedic practice.

As Michael Korda said
“If you don't believe in yourself, then who will believe in you? ..."

It's thus somewhat disappointing that much of the language used by paramedics and service providers blogs is inaccurate and in many ways disparaging and not (frankly) professionally oriented as a health care practitioner.

For another strong supporting comment on self empowerment read this

Lauren said...

I had a patient yesterday ask me if I was part of the Coast Guard!! Good grief! The last time I checked the Coast Guard was strictly vessels and aircraft, they don't dabble in emergency medicine. "The Coast Guard? No I'm an ambulance driver", I said knowing perfectly well he would understand that more than I'm a paramedic, I work in EMS. He was 42. Sad sad sad.

tj. said...

This is where a strong professional voice at all levels comes in. Join the College of Paramedics, be a 'station champion', organise local cpd & publicity events.

Anonymous said...

can't expect too much from the public. i can't go to the grocery store for a snack while on duty without someone mistaking me for a grocery store employee and asking me where the toothpaste is.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately my uniform does say ambulance on the back of it. Try being a technician in SAS not even EMT. I'vd been asked if i repair ambulances lol

whitesmar said...

As a once-and-future CFR, I too have been called an ambulance. It wouldn't be so bad, but I'm not even in uniform (unless you count the yellow vest).

I strongly agree that kids in school should be taught more about the (usually) first emergency service - perhaps they would need you guys less if they were more aware.

Anonymous said...

We fellow AHPs the radiographers have the same problem. Nobody knows what we do, even though pretty much every patient will at some point walk (or be pushed) through our doors, and we get called nurse on an annoyingly regular basis. I hate being called 'nurse'.

AlphaCharlie said...

I don't know if I count as a child but I'm 14 and want to be a paramedic, I have started to study, I got my FA certificate last year and read LOADS of paramedic blogs.