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By Lisa Montoya

Are you the educator that students want to go to in lab because they know you’re the “easy” one, or do some students gravitate towards you because you’re the educator they know will challenge them? Do students pick your lecture class because they have read reviews that your class is easy, and they will pass your exams because you give them all the answers? If you’re the “easy” one, you should consider becoming the educator that gives tough love; otherwise, you could be setting them up for failure.

Recently my nine-year-old daughter was in her first summer intensive ballet program, and when the girls heard who one of their instructors would be, they got nervous and said they didn’t want her, “She’s hard.” This led to a good conversation with such young minds about why they WANT the tough instructor. At the end of their month-long program, the students will have to take an exam administered by a council member who has never seen them dance, and they will be examining them on technique and terminology. I explained that they want a “hard” instructor who will challenge them because they prepare them for a successful examination and know how to help students succeed. Needless to say, all the students in her class passed their exams, and the hard work paid off.

The above scenario reminded me of what we deal with regularly in EMS education. Some educators are too easy on the students. Everyone passes the class, but in reality, it is the educator who failed them. They did not prepare them for the rigor of the NREMT, nor the patient assessment exam they will be taking to get hired with an agency.

“Everyone passes the class, but in reality, it is the educator who failed them.”

I think back to my days as a paramedic student; when it came time to pick my field preceptor for my final semester, I picked one that I knew was hard and would push me to my breaking point because I knew if I could get past him, I could succeed on my own. He’s still my mentor, and I’m still learning from him since we have been teaching together for over 17 years.

Students need to feel challenged in all areas of our programs, from lecture, lab, and clinical. Giving easy exams will not help prepare them for the NREMT, and it doesn’t force the student to study harder to achieve a passing score. Giving simple scenarios that are pure memorization does not allow your students to use the critical thinking required to pass the NREMT, as well as helping create a successful practitioner that our educational programs should strive better to send out to the public. For clinical, do you challenge your students with report writing? Ultimately, they need to write a legal document that should stand up in court, but do you prepare them for that with quality critique as they progress through the program?

In December 2022, I got a call from my father in the early morning hours; he called 911 for my mother because she could not breathe. When I arrived at the ER, my mother couldn’t wait to tell me (in her one-to-two-word sentences) that the paramedic that transported her was one of my previous paramedic students. I knew she was well taken care of because he was a great student, and my coworker and I challenged him to be the best paramedic he could be. Unfortunately, my mother passed away five days later, but I knew the care she received was the care she deserved. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or stranger, all patients deserve to trust that the paramedic and EMTs showing up in their time of need know how to assess and treat them within their scope of practice.

We are preparing them for the big exam at the end of our programs, the dreaded NREMT, but if you are not challenging them and simply sliding them through so that your job is easier, you have ultimately failed them. I do agree that there is a lot to be learned from working in the field, but we, as educators, are the ones that need to lay a firm foundation for them to build their careers. Teach as if your life (or your family and friends) depends on it because they may be responding to you one day! I strive every day to be the professor that shows “Tough Love,” and I hope you do as well.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Nancy Rook says:

    Thank you for your words of encouragement as an educator. I am a “tough love” educator myself. I echo all of your sentiments. One question I ask my students is if they want an 80% ~ 90% EMT knocking on their family’s door to help. Some joke and say they wouldn’t mind. Most want the best possible for their loved ones. Helping them be critical thinkers in class and labs will only benefit themselves and their community in the long run.

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