Kerry Anne Whitelock, DO, a former emergency medical technician (EMT) who currently works for Mount Nittany Physician Group as an internist, is co-author of the book, Code Calm on the Streets: Mental Toughness Skills for Pre-Hospital Emergency Personnel, with Michael J. Asken, PhD.
“EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, police, everybody gets that call—the one that affects them forever. The one they wish that they had been better prepared for,” said Dr. Whitelock.
Code Calm on the Streets is a concise manual that is designed to provide practical knowledge and tips for improving mental toughness. Each chapter begins with a short section that introduces a new concept and ends with a “Take Action” section that lists ways to immediately start using that chapter’s information.
Current training for EMTs and other pre-hospital personnel does not include adequate training in developing mental toughness because such psychological skills to perform well in high stress situations are simply considered to be common sense. Either you have it, or you don’t. However, Drs. Whitelock and Asken disagree with this notion.
“You cannot assume that people can apply their emergency skills in critical and crisis situations. You can train them to do so, though,” said Dr. Whitelock. “Code Calm provides a foundation for doing that.”
An example of teachable “common sense” skills that can be significantly enhanced with training is the use of “performance imagery.” Long used as part of training for athletes, this technique prepares people through the use of guided imagery. Participants imagine various emergency scenarios and then think, in detail, about their actions and the sights, sounds, and smells that might be part of the scene.
“Research shows that the more all five senses are involved, the better,” according to Dr. Asken. “Once these mental preparations are created, they can be reviewed before every shift, making an EMT that much more prepared for what they may have to deal with when called upon for a real emergency,” he said.