This essay is the winner of our 2022 ACLS Scholarship for Healthcare Providers and Cassidy Glasser has been awarded the full scholarship prize.
Currently I am a student preparing to enter a graduate program to become a Physician Assistant. As I look back on my tenure within healthcare, and the many experiences I have been afforded up until this point, I feel that I have been preparing to be a primary care provider within emergency medicine for much of my life. As an EMT I received the title of “Black Cloud,” a lighthearted mention to the fact that I had responded to more life-threatening situations in a year than anyone else in the department, and performed CPR, intubations, heavy bleeding control, or other lifesaving procedures almost on a daily basis.
My friends and coworkers would tell me that my experiences were incredible, that they envied me. To a degree, the situations were exhilarating, in a way. However, it was not long before the accumulated stress of what I had seen and the responsibilities thrust upon me began to take their toll. I was experiencing a constant buzz of anxiety, escalating to near-panic as my shifts on the ambulance grew closer and I knew what awaited me. I believe that this is a phenomenon more common to many healthcare providers than we care to admit, and the stigma surrounding it is a barrier to seeking help or making the necessary changes to overcome. However, it was a barrier that I had to conquer in order to continue to provide the best level of care to my patients at a moment’s notice. Here are a few of the exercises that I performed as a way to recenter myself and prepare for the stresses of providing lifesaving care.
Mental preparedness is possibly the most important factor in the delivery of accurate, high quality emergency medical care. Rehearsal became a primary way for me to prepare for any situation that I would encounter as a provider. I would imagine emergency scenarios that were likely to happen, and slowly walk through how I would act and what steps I would take to respond to them. These exercises were particularly helpful when I included my partners on the ambulance, or anyone else in my life with medical experience. It was incredibly beneficial to discuss as a group the priority tasks to perform, in what order care should proceed, and how to perform them most efficiently. I began to include more and more of my coworkers in these rehearsals, and it was beneficial to us all as we learned from each other’s best practices and shared our failures in a safe environment. Furthermore, when we actually encountered these scenarios together, we were able to work efficiently as a team having previously discussed our expectations for one another during an emergency. I believe that in these sessions we were beginning to break down the wall of invulnerability that many healthcare providers put up in order to seem capable and confident on the outside.
Immediately following a lifesaving call, especially when unsuccessful, I began to perform “after action reviews” with those involved so we could discuss what we did and most importantly, how we were feeling as a result of our efforts. It was incredibly beneficial to voice feelings of sadness, guilt, or discomfort at what we had just encountered. Providers could receive immediate support and camaraderie before these feelings had a chance to fester and affect us adversely over time. This created an outlet for first responders to support one another in the moment of crisis rather than to bury our feelings and simply try to “move on.” I felt encouraged that other, experienced responders felt the same as I did. This allowed me to seek out additional help in the form of counseling without the shame that I previously felt in admitting my vulnerabilities.
Physical preparedness also became an important coping mechanism for the stresses of emergency medicine. Finding time to perform any sort of physical exercise each day became a priority to me as I progressed as a professional EMT. This was an incredible outlet for stress, but also empowered me knowing that I was physically capable to perform demanding tasks such as CPR, or lifting and moving patients when necessary. Shifts as a healthcare provider typically run longer than that of an average workday, and can be physically demanding throughout. Being dedicated to my own fitness helped to prepare me for the demands of a work week and left me feeling more confident and capable, ready to take on the challenges of the day. I had more energy throughout the long workweek and was better able to respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice.
I sincerely hope that these strategies are able to help up and coming BLS providers to flourish in their roles, and to feel accomplished personally and professionally. The rewards of working as a healthcare provider do not come without a cost, but I believe that together we can lighten the load for one another and create an environment which fosters healthy ways to prepare for emergencies and develop as a provider.