How 10 Minutes a Shift Can Make You a Better Medic

Do you ever wish that you were more “on top of your game” when it comes to EMS? Do you feel like you have fallen behind on new trends, science, etc? Chances are, if you’re taking the time to read articles like this, then you probably care about what you do. The problem is, caring is merely intention, which is only half of the recipe for accomplishing your goals. You must combine intention with action if you really want to get ahead and be the best medic you can be.

I have struggled with this ever since I took possession of my first paramedic license. I have always wanted to stay current on my skills and knowledge, but I found myself getting burned out, overworked and generally unmotivated to do what it takes to get ahead in this field. For years, I tried to come up with systems and schedules to force me to sit down and just read. The problem is, it felt like such a huge undertaking, and the feeling of being overwhelmed always led me to failure. It wasn’t until I read “The Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy, that I was able to come up with my “perfect system” for continuing to learn and stay on top of my game. The idea behind the book is to make small, incremental changes to your daily routine in order to produce big results over the long-run. It’s an amazing read, and I would highly recommend checking it out!

If you can find just 10 minutes each shift to focus on learning just one thing, then you will see your knowledge and confidence levels dramatically increase over a relatively short period of time. If you’re flat out too busy to spend the time on-duty to further your knowledge, then do it before you come in to work. Here are some 10-minute activities that you can do to get that ball rolling:

Pick 1 Medication or Condition to Learn About

This is easy. Next time you’re looking over someone’s medication list, start writing down the drugs that you’ve never heard of, or know nothing about. Likewise, do this with their medical history as well. This will be the very start of your “to-learn” list. Yes, this list will be grow quick, but that’s a good thing. You never want to run out of things to learn! Pull out your smartphone and either do a Google search, or use your favorite medical reference app to learn about each item. I wouldn’t recommend doing this as your only 10-minute exercise, but at least try it once a week. You’re not going to be able to remember everything about everything, but I will guarantee you that you will start to see these medications or conditions popping up and you’ll have a better grasp on the patient’s “big picture”.

Refresh on a Skill or Protocol

This is a MUST. I was so guilty of not doing this for so many years and it bit me hard one time when I was faced with doing a procedure that could have been life-or-death for the patient. This takes no time, and you have everything you need right there in your ambulance. Make it a habit to mentally run yourself through scenarios where you would use less-common medications or procedures. Actually walk yourself through the steps of drawing up the medications, setting up drips, making your landmarks, etc. On skills like needle decompression, intubation, etc, pull out the dummies and practice at LEAST once per month. Keep the skill fresh in your mind and develop the muscle memory so that you can perform when the time comes.

Read an Article or Case Review

This needs to be done at least once a week. Pick up your trade journal, or point your smartphone to your favorite EMS news site and start reading. There is SO much information out there to soak in, and it’s all free! Better yet, while you’re at it, get on that social media app that’s been taking up all your time and do a hashtag search for #FOAM or #FOAMed (Free Open Access Medical Education). This will literally bring up limitless amounts of information that very intelligent and experienced providers post out there for free. With all the amazing information floating around the internet, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t increase your knowledge in 10 minutes a day!

Teach Something

“There is no better way to learn than to teach.”

BENJAMIN WHICHCOTE, Moral and Religious Aphorisms

This quote is one of my absolute favorites when it comes to education. You want to get really good at something? Teach someone else how to do it. When you teach something, it forces you to learn it. Make sense? I tried this out for myself a while back when I was looking to turn some of my weaknesses into strengths. I signed up to do a lecture on OB emergencies at the local college. This was a subject that I always hated. My idea of handling an OB emergency was to just drive fast and pray for the best. When I committed myself to doing that lecture, I turned my weakness into a strength. I read, asked questions, practiced and read some more. Before you knew it, I had a whole new level of confidence that I never experienced before.

Taking the time to teach something doesn’t have to be as extreme as putting on a lecture. Actually, it can be as simple as spending 10 minutes at the airway dummy with a paramedic student, or showing a new EMT a trick you learned a few years ago. If you push yourself to make teaching a habit, you WILL become a better medic.


Making small changes to our routines and just being intentional with our time will produce huge results in the long-run. I can guarantee you that applying these practices to your daily routine will make you a better medic. Give it a shot for 30 days and see if you can tell a difference! You owe it yourself and your patients to try.


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