Online EMS Learning

EMS social media, whether it’s a blog, podcast, or even a Facebook page, has greatly improved and democratized the access to advanced knowledge in EMS.  The ability to hear about and learn from renowned clinicians and educators and to become rapidly informed on cutting edge research cannot help but improve the average EMS provider’s knowledge base and clinical abilities.

Having sung the praises of EMS social media, I’d share a few warnings, though.

There are a lot of people NOT to learn from.  Namely, there are the pedants out there who know the minutiae of medicine.  These people rarely put things into proper perspective.  For the newer or less confident provider, the only thing they offer is self-doubt and a loss of confidence. We all have to walk before we can run and the social media pedants often forget that.  A newer EMS provider may well not know subtle EKG changes or the minute details of pharmacodynamics of a medication.  Overwhelming them with information may cause the newer provider to run away and retreat into a mindset where they believe themselves to be an inadequate provider as opposed to a provider who’s not necessarily been exposed to the concept(s) in question. The EMS pedants rarely account for the experience level of the provider or the relevance of the information to EMS practice.  Rather, everyone who doesn’t master knowledge to the level of the EMS pedant is dangerous, incompetent, and quite possibly doesn’t even like kittens, puppies, and pizza.

You’re going to make mistakes.  The truth is that in medicine, unlike the social sciences, there are answers that are wrong.  It’s ok to make mistakes.  The critical step is to learn from the mistake.  Some of us on EMS social media, including me, engage in Socratic dialogues designed to educate and help you learn the fallacies and errors of your position. It’s rarely personal, but rather a way to educate.

On a similar note, expertise IS often a substitute for experience.  Someone who’s a physician is going to have a much better understanding of medicine than a new EMT.  Likewise, someone who’s an attorney with prehospital medical experience is likely to have a deeper understanding of the law than someone whose legal education consisted of having a PowerPoint presentation read to them.  Just like there are wrong answers, there are also people whose expertise and education give them more credence.

In medicine, as in the rest of the professions, there are few absolutes. And the more education one acquires, the less definite the answers become.  The absolute rules hammered during a 180 hour EMT course become increasingly nuanced with more education and experience. I’ve always said that, in law, the answer is “it depends,” primarily because of the facts of a case and the laws of the relevant jurisdiction.  In emergency medicine, “it depends” is often true — unless you’re an entry-level student or provider who hasn’t acquired the education or experience to appreciate nuance.  In those cases, the answers are always absolute and based on dogma.

So, my advice?  Get involved in EMS social media.  Get messy.  Make mistakes.  Engage in the dialogue. As the saying goes, good judgment comes from experience.  And experience comes from making bad judgment calls. For me, I know I’ve made countless friends, acquired a few mentors, and learned lots.  I hope it’s the same for you as well.