Newman | Stepping up

I’ll just go ahead and tell the story.

“Step up, tell the truth and take responsibility for your actions and all will be big medicine.”

When I said those words I was the newly-minted director of a small Emergency Medical Services department in suburban Montreal attempting to establish an organizational culture wherein the medics had only a few rules to follow:

Respect yourself

Respect your colleagues

Respect your clients

Respect your community

At the time, I had already come to the realization that a loose-leaf binder full of rules wasn’t what The EMS House really needed. We were struggling with lots of little things that were not being done properly – response bags not being refilled, trucks not being plugged-in on cold winter nights, living quarters that weren’t being tidied on a regular basis, etc.

So, I told our crews that no matter what happened, if they stepped up, told the truth and accepted responsibility for their actions we could get on with the art of caring for ourselves and our community in a meaningful way.

Tests come quickly.

Sitting at my desk in the back corner of The EMS House, I looked up distractedly as one of our crews rolled slowly back into station after an emergency run. Instead of the usual sound of boots on steel stairs followed by an exchange of after-action commentary, there was an odd silence.

I took note and stopped what I was doing. Quiet footsteps and the two medics – usually boisterous and outgoing – standing quietly and looking distressed at my door.

“Uh, we had a problem on that last call.”

What kind of problem I asked.

“We attempted to drive right up to the door of the building.”

Okay I said, and..

“We forgot about the low overhang at the entrance.”

Oh, I said, and realized I probably needed to go outside and look at the truck.

Yes, it was a visual. The impact had been pretty intense with the top of the box. Several lights were smashed and there were a couple of serious metalwork reminders of the close encounter with an immoveable object.

“We screwed up. We were so focused on getting to the patient, we forgot we were driving a high-top truck. We’re both prepared to face the consequences.”

Stepped up. Check.

Told the truth. Check.

Accepted responsibility for one’s actions. Check.

Consequences. I assigned each of them to become driver-trainers. No one ever made the same mistake again.

It was a turning point for our little organization and marked the beginning of an incredible gathering of wondrously talented individuals who came together as a cohesive, dedicated and passionate team of care providers.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

Hal