One of our original plans when we started EMSstudent.ca was to create a journal of our experiences during the preceptorship portion of our training. Although in retrospect, an entry a day was a bit of a lofty goal, every digest, I’ll try to include some personal thoughts, advice and interesting experiences that have happened over the previous month. In my first entry, it seemed fitting to talk about my first call, and some advice that may be helpful for those of you who have yet to have theirs.
For some of you reading this, that eagerly anticipated first call has yet to happen, for others, it’s long in the past. Regardless of when that first shift, and especially first call takes place, it becomes a milestone you’ll look back on for the rest of your career. For me, the combination of fear and excitement felt more like the movie Aliens in my stomach then butterflies, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. My preceptor (for better or worse) is a firm believer in the “trial by fire” method, so I found myself attending (flanked by fire, my preceptor, the family and 2 dogs) my first call a mere 15 minutes into day 1. Mercifully it was fairly straightforward (pt. was postictal with no previous hx of seizure) and I think it went quite well if I do say so myself.
With my first call under my belt, my anxiety level dropped dramatically and I had significantly more fun for the rest of the shift (and rest of the set). It’s pretty natural to be nervous on your first day of any job, and looking back I suspect there’s very little I could have done to decrease those first call jitters. That said, being only a few weeks into my preceptorship, I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice for those coming into this portion of their training.
1. Get lots of sleep
I figured I’d start with the more practical/concrete one first. It goes without saying that this job is tiring, and sleep is important, but I think I underestimated how draining 12 hr shifts would be. Between having to be “on your toes” because you’re the new student (studying, cleaning, restocking etc.), and the lack of sleep you’ll likely have for the first few days due to nerves, coming into the start of this game as well rested as possible is a must.
2. Come to grips with the fact that you’re going to make mistakes
Another cliché that we hear all the time, but it’s so important and so true. No amount of academic knowledge will totally prepare you for this job, nor will it make you good at it. As a student, you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to ask silly questions, and there will be times you feel like you don’t know anything. Guess what? Everyone feels (or has felt) the same way; it’s all part of the process. In my first few weeks, I’ve reversed leads, forgotten bags on scene (luckily my preceptor noticed before it was too late) and banged a very expensive automatic stretcher into a door in front of a very crowded ER. The more silly things you do while under the protective wing of your teachers, the better off you’ll be when you’re done. Shake the embarrassing moments off, don’t ever be afraid to ask a million questions, and remember that even your brilliant preceptors started somewhere.
3. Advocate for yourself
This one might be a bit trickier, but like most realms of adult education, you are ultimately responsible for your own success. It’s important to build a solid relationship with your preceptor (that trust goes both ways), and they’ve got a teaching method that works for them, but they don’t know you at first either. You know your learning style, your comfort level and your strengths/weaknesses, so rather than wait for your instructors to figure them out…talk to them about it. In conversation with another classmates, I’ve heard things like “I wish they would ask me more patho questions”, “I wish I could watch call “x” rather than just diving in” or “My preceptor is really good at ECGs, but we haven’t talked about them yet”. As I said above, this can be a bit trickier and the advice comes with this caveat; to a point, you just have to trust that the person who has signed up to take you on as a student has a method/plan. That said, I think it’s really important to speak up if there are specific goals or things you want to focus on. Ultimately, it will go a long way in building your relationship, and more importantly, it will allow you to get the most out of your time on the road.
So there you have it. My top 3 pieces of advice for someone starting into their preceptorship. For those who have long since finished their schooling (or even better, those who are preceptors themselves), I would love to hear what advice you’d have for those of us just starting (or who have yet to start). You can send any pearls you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll include them in the next digest.
As for now, it’s time to take my first piece of advice and get some sleep.
“Novices make errors due to incomplete knowledge, while experts make errors due to the intrinsic hazards of semi-automated behaviour”. James Reason