An EMD’s Best Friend

Jonny McMullan

Editor’s Note: Jonny McMullan discusses the benefits of the EMD Mentor Course and provides insight into the feedback from EMDs qualifying as IAED mentors and the trainees they have assisted. He also highlights the vital role mentors play in maintaining the learning culture within agencies—without, he writes, “doing myself out of a job as an instructor!”

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

Role of mentoring

The role of mentorship is increasingly viewed as critical to the successful integration of new staff into an existing workforce. Benjamin Franklin’s words ring true for EMDs walking into the dispatch center to process their first emergency calls. In training, we cover the fundamentals of the systems we use in the control room; the policies, procedures, and protocols we need to follow; our Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS®) certification; and scenario training in the classroom. What we can’t re-create is the reality of answering that first emergency number request from a distressed member of the public.

Having an experienced EMD beside you, someone who has sat in that chair and waited for their first call, can make all the difference to a mentee. A direct point of contact within the dispatch center, someone who understands the interpersonal relationships at play, and a person with genuine experience of the job’s pressures can provide that precious combination of support and guidance when it is most needed.

If this is the case, then how does the EMD Mentor Course prepare our EMD mentors for that responsibility?

Mentor certification

In the U.K. and Ireland, the Mentor Course is in huge demand as agencies recognize the importance of acknowledging the role that mentors can play in working with new EMDs. The course curriculum includes sessions on:

Telecommunication techniques

Providing feedback

Universal standards

Dispatch stress

The content is interactive and it provides exercises focused on Chief Complaint selection, teaching and learning styles, and giving feedback. Discussion on quality assurance standards impresses upon mentors an understanding of calltaking from a performance perspective and tests their own abilities in a safe and fun environment.

Something old

At my agency, the Mentor Course is often the first formal certified training that an EMD receives after MPDS certification. In this capacity, it provides two immediate benefits to the EMD: a feeling of investment in their career progression and recognition of their status within the dispatch center and a refresher in the MPDS fundamentals and IAED vision and values.

The most common feedback received from the EMDs attending the course is a sense of relief at having the opportunity to improve their own skills and knowledge before working with a trainee for a significant period of time. I recall one student in the course, who had been an EMD for 15 years, approaching me on the final day and saying, “I was so worried about mentoring. What if I tell them the wrong thing or don’t support them enough? This has really given me a boost—even just for me.”

Qualifying as a certified mentor also reinforces pride in the EMD role that can sometimes erode over years of emergency communications calltaking. So often I hear comments like, “I had forgotten what the job was all about,” “just getting some attention has really made me feel motivated and ready to help a new member of staff,” and “the pressure of the job has really ground me down over the years; it’s stressful, but this course has reminded me why I wanted to do it in the first place.”

Something new

What does this mean for your dispatch center? The control room can be a challenging and intimidating environment. The group of trainees you are introducing into the workplace is met with a motivated and positive team of mentors ready to impart their knowledge from experience without any barriers or negativity. When teaching in agencies across the U.K. and Ireland, trainees often tell me about the horrible experiences related to their first shifts due to the role of “mentors” who have received no formal training. One relatively new EMD told me, “I came in for my first shift and the manager introduced me to my mentor. She sat me down and told me that she didn’t get paid for this and had only been asked to do it the day before. I felt like a burden, and it really added to the pressure. I wasn’t concentrating on the emergency number calls because I was worried about annoying my mentor. I felt I couldn’t ask any questions and whenever I did, I got a reply that just highlighted the negative parts of the job.”

There is nothing more demotivating for “newbies” than having their enthusiasm squashed by “battle-hardened” workers who have forgotten what it’s like at the start of an EMD career. For many trainees the support of a staff member who has attended and passed the Mentor Course increases their confidence.

The Mentor Course prepares experienced staff members for the challenges of providing coaching and guidance while reinforcing the purpose and vision of the EMD role. It’s a morale booster for everyone on staff.

Mentoring and a learning culture

With many agencies undertaking recruitment at a quickening pace, the Mentor Course is also creating, or at least adding to, the cycle of learning within dispatch centers. I regularly visit agencies where EMDs attending the course have been mentored by former students. At my agency, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), we are privileged to witness the same as more and more EMDs volunteer to become mentors based on their own experiences as trainees. A staff member recently told me, “If it hadn’t been for my mentor, I never would have finished my training or been signed off for 999s. The thought that I might provide that support to someone else just starting out really makes me want to be a better EMD and mentor.”

The impact of having EMDs coached by mentor-certified peers who then become certified mentors has huge potential. We create a staff group of similar-minded, highly motivated EMDs who understand the importance of effective mentoring and possess a desire to improve performance for the benefit of the patient and new employees. My advice to you? Invest in your mentors and their mentees’ futures. The potential is immeasurable. And remember, we need someone to teach the mentors, so Instructors still need a job, too!


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