By Crystal Wallin, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P
We’ve all had them. They are the ones you see on the schedule and your heart is gladdened. If you aren’t lucky enough to be scheduled with them for a while but you see them at shift change, you linger – assuming the tones leave you undisturbed for a bit.
Sometimes they are the intimidating ones, in your early days. They were most likely the tougher preceptors, if you were a student at that service. If you had the self-awareness to grasp, fleetingly for some or in a bold glare of spotlight for others – your own lack of knowledge and utter vulnerability in the face of a truly pressing medical emergency. They worked with precision and efficiency of movement no matter the utter urgency of a patient in true distress. Worked, while you tried to help and likely succeeded mostly in getting in the way. You with all your book knowledge that felt so good in class when the instructor needed an answer but now you are on the truck, in the street, in the neighborhood perhaps you’d be uneasy to be in alone. But when you are with these experienced providers you don’t think of the environment, as you find yourself drinking in the way they move and work together. Wondering if you will ever be like that – sure you will not because you realize in those moments that the line about the real learning beginning on the street, well, it was oh so true.
So you look forward to these preceptors more than the ones who were known for giving you an “easy day” and requiring very little as they announced that having a student was a way for them to not have to do much. You came to crave the tough preceptors because they were hard on you but you learned quickly that they were hard on themselves too, and settled for not one iota less than their very best. Quizzed until your palms sweat, driving home after a shift with these preceptors you felt alive and as if you wanted to put mental hands into the knowledge they had shared all day – and grasp it tight.
I had preceptors like that. Multiple. I was alive, energized and drinking from what I knew even then was a cup of wisdom nothing in a book could bestow upon my mind.
Eventually I had the honor of wearing the same uniform, and working alongside of them. The days were long but just like you hear, it really is true – the years were short. Many of them continued their educational journey and left or worked their way up in the organization until they served as supervisors. Some followed a path that diverged from that shared uniform. But somewhere along the way, I began to pass on the tidbits they had taught me to the students and new employees that now I was precepting or for whom I was the FTO for that particular shift. I referenced these medics like people reference cited research. Taught about evidence based practice, looked up new research and discussed that the only thing constant is change – that to be up to date we must let go of old ways and seek to learn so that we can deliver the very best for each of our patients.
A few years ago one of those tall in stature as well as knowledge medics retired. Well, I guess it was more than just a few years ago now. Watching the cake cutting and the heartfelt sendoff, it struck me – the medics who shaped me, who were my work heroes and honestly my family, they were shaping all of us who came along in order that we would be able to take their place. The workplace without each of them seemed a little more foreign, and soon stories that involved them began to be met with, “who?” from the new faces in stiff new uniforms. But that’s how it was always going to be, like it or not.
The thing with workplace heroes is, you don’t know that’s what they are until you are looking backward through the lens of experience and time. When you are busy walking with the greats, whether running calls or texting them to share some new research, whether they drive or fly or nurse now or are leaders – when you are walking among them you just know they are what you want to be.
If you are very lucky, someday one of the new shiny faces will tell you that you have shaped them. You will hear the echo of “see one, do one, teach one” and smile with a little bit of pride and a whole lot of wistfulness. For the good days that you didn’t realize were golden.
And I hope, you pick up the phone and call or text them – and thank them.
And then, you go back out there and learn, pass on the feeling of being alive in a way that transcends any uniform.
My heroes will always know the difference they made. So should yours.
Tell them, thank them. You are their legacy.
For Lucy, Nick, and all the rest – you know who you are.