Most of my early life I suffered with low self confidence. What does self confidence mean? To me it is the same thing as self doubt, doubting my own judgments and ability. Not in all areas, mainly social situations where I had to interact with people I didn’t know. Why, you might wonder, did I contemplate changing career into probably one of the most people oriented jobs there is: paramedic. I couldn’t have told you at the time, it just ‘felt right’. I was in a dead end job I hated and just had to get out. The more I researched the role of paramedic, the more it appealed. I didn’t get too stressed through the application process because the numbers were stacked so heavily against me I didn’t seriously expect to get through; 2000 applicants for 12 places. Amazingly I did.
Back in the day all training was in-house. I had a six week clinical course and a two week driving course. Then I was unleashed on the public as a trainee technician. The plan was to work as a crew with a designated Work Based Trainer and Assessor (WBTA) paramedic for a few weeks then just work with any paramedic as required as a reserve technician. Throughout the first year, I was rota’d on with my WBTA at regular intervals to assess my progress and identify any training needs. Then after that first year I was a fully qualified Ambulance Technician.
That first year did not go particularly well for me. On a good day the jobs went well enough, I generally knew what was happening with my patients and knew the correct care plans and treatments and how to assist the paramedic I was working with. The trouble was when the patient showed any ‘challenging behaviour’, which in a big city with the accompanying social problems, was most days. When confronted or challenged I often didn’t have the confidence to deal with it. Some of the staff I worked with were great and very supportive and helpful, some weren’t, they made it clear from the start of the shift they did not like ‘babysitting’ a new technician.
The day came for my third quarterly assessment and my WBTA was on leave. I was rota’d on with one of the other WBTA’s, I’ll call him Alan in this blog, it seems right to change his name. I’d never worked with Alan up to now, I’d seen him around station and he always seemed quite brusque and impatient. I was a little apprehensive, more than normal. We did our first job and he asked me how I felt it went. Before I could answer he said that I was less confident and assured than I should be at 9 months into the job. I should be more assertive with the patients. My heart sank. I had given up a steady job in engineering to do this. My family had supported me through the changes and never complained once about the dip in money coming in. Was I about to be told I was not fit for this job and it would be best if I resigned? This must have shown on my face because Alan suddenly smiled and said:
“Don’t panic, this is easy to put right. You know your stuff clinically, no worries there at all, just a couple of tweaks and we’ll sort you right out”
Glad you think it’s easy I thought, I’ve been struggling with my confidence all my life. Suddenly though I felt optimistic and good. We went back to station, back then we were much less busy and Alan asked our controller if we could go back to sort out some admin for my assessment. Back on station, cups of tea in hand, he gave me the simple advice which has made such a huge difference to my life:
“When you walk in to a room, you’re very hunched up and your shoulders are rounded. Without realising it you’re trying to make yourself look small. Then with your quiet voice you start talking. Is it any wonder some of our ‘characters’ don’t take you seriously? You show with your body that you don’t have confidence in yourself so why should they have confidence in you?”
He showed me how I approached the patient in an exaggerated (I hope!) way and then showed me how to do it with shoulders back, head high and a projected talking voice. Then he had me practicing coming into the room. First he said to do it like I always did. Next he had me practice taking a deep breath; shoulders back and head up before I entered. Then I had to talk to him by projecting my voice as he had shown me. I really did feel a difference. The rest of the shift flew by with me practicing my new skill. At the end he said he could see an improvement and he hoped I would keep practicing. He told me:
“When you don’t feel confident you can at least act confident. That way you even fool yourself and after practicing long enough you will become confident.”
Twenty some years later and I still clearly remember that shift and still follow Alan’s advice. Paramedic education is very different now, university based with clinical placements throughout the course. I’m a mentor which means each year I ‘m allocated a student and for the weeks they are on placement they work with me and my crewmate and I guide them in the practical aspects of the job. I always pass on Alan’s advice to the less confident students.