Follow up to The Shine Factor: What makes a great Ambulance Service

This is part 2 of a 3 part series on “The Shine Factor”

Part 1 of this series can be found here – The Shine Factor

Part 2 of this series can be found here – What Makes a Great Ambulance Service

Part 3 of this series can be found here – The Shine Factor – Grunts


Perhaps I really am an EMS geek. I do EMS tourism. No, I don’t find new and interesting ways to hurt myself enough to require emergency services but when I’m travelling I usually stop in to EMS and Fire Stations along my way and go look over the service. This has been a lot of fun some times (Thanks MAST in Kansas City and Sedgwick Co. EMS in Wichita! I had a great time) and has been somewhat less fun in other areas. If you’ve ever done this, you’ve probably noticed some things like I have.

First, there are services out there that are average. They run ok equipment, they have an ok group of people working there, and they appear generally competent.

Then there are services that are not so good, the kind that leave you shaking your head at in the car when you leave after politely pretending to be impressed.

And finally, there are services that really, truly do impress you. They’ve got this stuff down to a science. Their rigs are clean, well taken care of, and in great shape. Their equipment is top of the line and well stocked, their uniforms are cool, their people are really friendly and seem more intelligent than your coworkers, and their facilities make yours look like a single-wide trailer. Heck, the place even smells like freshly squeezed awesome. These services are so much of a class act that you find yourself wondering why exactly you work where you do and aren’t working there with them.

I’ve seen these services along my path and I have noticed a few things that seem to characterize all of them. Sure, some do these things better than the others to different extents however you will find a healthy mix of these things at all of these services. I’d like to share some of these things with you.

Things I’ve found out about awesome EMS Services:

  • Their people are proud of the organization: You’ll find that the people who work at awesome services sincerely have pride in where they work. They’re there for a reason. They enjoy working for a service that has a good reputation in the community and the wider region. They think that their service is cool; they think that working for their service is cool; and they are respected by people from other agencies because of the position with the agency that they have. There’s a general feeling among the people that work for the service that it takes hard work and performance to earn a position within the agency. A service earns self respect the same way a person does, by having high standards and meeting their own challenges. A service that earns the respect of its people earns the respect of the wider community. Their Shine Factor is high.


  • Their people truly care: “Apathetic” is not an adjective you would use to describe these people. The culture that they’re in allows them to know that they make a difference in everything the service does, not only in the lives of their patients. They know that they are an important part of their service and that they would be missed if they were gone. They care about their coworkers and are as much friends as they are colleagues. There is mutual respect and a feeling that everyone there has to pull their weight in order for the service to meet its goals and thrive. Have you ever seen something wrong in a truck and haven’t spoken up because it was someone else’s fault or someone else’s job to take care of it? These people care enough not to do that.


  • Their community cares about and supports them: Community support is absolutely essential if an EMS agency is going to thrive. The best services have proven their worth to their communities and constantly work to prove why they need, deserve, and responsibly use the support they receive. The community supports them because they see the benefit in supporting them. You can see the community’s support in the newness and quality of their equipment and facilities as well as in the salaries that the employees are paid. You can see how responsible the service is with the support they get in how well they treat the equipment and the community in return.


  • The culture of the service just ‘feels good’: The culture of the organization defines the way everything runs. Bad organizational cultures breed discontent and apathy in everyone over time. Good organizational cultures breed people who feel comfortable coming to work and handing the responsibility of being an employee. People that work in a bad culture form cliques and get angry a lot. People that work in good cultures come up with ideas that get judged on their merits. People that work in bad cultures fear mistakes because of the punitive measures that will come down from on high. People that work in good cultures acknowledge their mistakes and are allowed to learn from them so that they grow as a provider and as a person. People that work in bad cultures hate coming in to work. People that work in good cultures have friends at work and feel comfortable, if not happy, with being there. I think that you can get what I’m talking about.


  • Their people are experts in what they do: Paramedics and EMTs are experts in Pre-Hospital medical care. They have to be, there is nobody else who could or should be. The people in awesome EMS systems have great protocols that are challenging to learn and require advanced skills to perform. Their protocols evolve with emerging science and keep on the progressive edge of medicine. The training, quality review, and quality improvement programs are tough and demanding. People take pride in being the best at what they do and earn their own self respect by doing it well. They respect themselves for their efforts and respect their coworkers for earning their respect every bit as much as they do. Ever been scared that you or a family member or friend would get hurt while so and so’s on? These people don’t have to be.


  • The organization respects and supports the employees: This relates to the organizational culture but deserves its own point. Employees will not respect the employer unless the employer respects the employees. In awesome EMS services, the employees and management function in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The management provides the employees with adequate, functional equipment and facilities even when asking them to do more with less. They strive to promote fairness in corrective actions and policies, knowing when to cut someone slack when appropriate. The employees are treated like adults and are encouraged to innovate and take ownership of their areas.

I’ve been to these services and I can honestly say that I left their station with the feeling that I wanted to be a part of their organization. Then, I’ve gone back to my service and taken an inventory on what we needed to do to emulate them. It’s all about being able to enjoy coming to work for the right reasons where you work with people who care, respect, and strive for the same things that you do. EMS people who are passionate about EMS who are allowed to shine build great organizations no matter where they happen to land. EMS people who aren’t build organizations that fall into the other two categories. I suggest that you take some of the suggestions below to help get your service to where you want it to be:

  • Read “The Shine Factor” – One of my previous posts and the predecessor to this one.


  • Realize that your community won’t care about you u
    nless you tell them why they should – EMS organizations need to market themselves just as any other business. No matter what your classification is, you need to market yourself to your community every day. Your constituents are your customers and they won’t think about you unless they either need you or you put your message in front of their faces. Tell them what you do, tell them why you do things the way that you do, and tell them what you need to do what they do. Let them know how you strive for quality. Let them know how well you are stewards of their hard-earned dollars. Let them know who you are and what you stand for. Trust me, PR saves lives and EMS budgets.


  • Right now, resolve to treat everyone else in your organization like a professional. Try to earn their respect. Someone has to take the first step here, it should be you.


  • End any secrecy in your organization – Sure, direct personnel actions are one thing, but unwritten policies and issues directly affecting all employees are quite another. Allow people to become involved in the organization in any role they want to. Organizational secrecy builds “Silos” where people tend to stratify themselves based upon their own perception of what is most important to the group and allows individuals to worry that anyone with a new idea is there to steal their position within the silo. Allow people to participate and collaborate on decisions affecting the organization.


  • Encourage innovation. Encourage participation and new ideas – No idea is a bad idea. Business these days thrives on the economics of ideas. Don’t shoot down any idea without a collaborative review of its merit. Employees come up with new and better ways to do things every day, let them develop those ideas and test their effectiveness. If those ideas are repressed in an organizational culture that resists change, the whole organization will suffer when people begin to feel that their contributions never matter.


  • Encourage people to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities – I work for my ambulance service because it would miss me if I was gone. Why would anyone ever go to a place where it didn’t matter if they were there or not? When people begin to feel that their time isn’t valued or their efforts aren’t appreciated, they stop putting forth any time or effort above what it takes to avoid being fired. That’s it.


  • Never let anything stagnate – If you haven’t reviewed a system in over a year, you’re lagging behind. If your protocols haven’t changed in over a year, you’re not keeping pace with medical science. Even if something is working very well, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be reviewed and measured regularly. Make systems prove their worth. Don’t let anything get stagnant. Pull ineffective policies or programs and replace them with another idea. Review those ideas and see if they’re better suited to your goals. Set lofty goals and try hard to reach them.


  • Reevaluate why you do what you do – Why are you in the organization? Are you there because you care about what you do? Are you passionate about it? Once you remember what it was that brought you to EMS and to the organization where you’ve happened to land, evaluate if you still see your organization fires your passion. If it doesn’t, work diligently to make it meet your design. Earn your own respect. Forgive and forget past grievances and collaborate on new solutions. Bust silos and build bridges, not fences.


As always, I welcome comments and e-mails:


 This is part 2 of a 3 part series on “The Shine Factor”

Part 1 of this series can be found here – The Shine Factor

Part 2 of this series can be found here – What Makes a Great Ambulance Service

Part 3 of this series can be found here – The Shine Factor – Grunts