Professional Networks – The Internet, EMS, & Social Media

In the emergency medical service arena, there are a number of online networks designed to provide support for EMS personnel. Most of these networks are listservs or discussion groups aimed at bolstering education and best current practices.

I first started in EMS as a route to become a firefighter, but after working for a short time as an EMT, I decided that I enjoyed the practice of medicine much more than fire suppression. It was about this time that I formed a goal to be the best that I could be in this industry. There is an inherent problem with this: most in EMS feel that they are the best at what they do. I had to figure out a benchmark to compare myself to.

Searching the internet, I found a small group of EMTs, paramedics and physicians who promoted teaching as learning. This group also debated best practices constantly. Most importantly, all were welcome to contribute. Partaking in many discussions over the years has broadened my knowledge and has made me keenly aware of many of the problems facing EMS that I was going to have to deal with. This group has helped me to grow as an EMT, motivated me through my education as a paramedic and instilled in me some of the virtues of being an effective educator and a mentor within the EMS community. This same group has helped turn inexperienced and insecure providers into authors, consultants, researchers, managers, and educators. These truly were the best and the brightest in the field. Many of group participants were only known to me by their email address or the initials with which they signed their posts, but now, after meeting and forming in-person relationships, I count many of them among my friends and colleagues.

This only outlines one of my professional networks. I truly understand the value of professional networking, and I have promoted this within the educational environment in the past. Networking among colleagues, whether professionally or academically, encourages teamwork and collaboration. It also encourages a healthy competitive nature in the participants which translates to more overall growth. In the academic arena, students are able to rely on other students’ expertise in some areas while, at the same time, providing expertise in others.

The new online social networking venues (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, et al.) appear to be replacing the listservs of old. These applications provide the user a broader, more personal sense of their social and professional network. Opening one’s self up to your colleagues in this manner can only encourage more personal growth and professionalism.

Communications Violations

I have been involved in the internet community for many years, starting pre-internet with running a bulletin board system. Throughout this time, I have always tried to encourage the use of proper “netiquette”. Though I am mindful that not everyone understands the concept initially, those that choose to continuously utilize networks for communication should strive for proper, clear and concise methods.

One of the biggest violations of “netiquette” that I see frequently is the use of all capitalized letters. THIS IS THE ELECTRONIC EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING. Though useful at times, it is very difficult to read and adds a confusing tone to the message. As I have stated before, it is so difficult to transmit emotion via electronic means, the assumption of stress placed on messages such as these only complicates the matter.

That being said, the single worst violation in communication is the sending of messages that the recipient has no desire for. We have all dealt with the person who feels it their place to tell about their woes to anyone who will listen (or, better stated, to anyone who will stand there and pretend to listen). Most of us have received “cold calls” from marketing firms. And, those with email accounts are very familiar with SPAM, or unsolicited email messages. These messages are disruptive to the audience and to society as a whole, costing time, money, and causing frustration.

There are many instances of good and bad netiquette occurring daily, and though I have only mentioned two bad examples, I find the various modes of network communication to be positive, helpful and efficient means when used appropriately. In this age of technology, many of us are forced to communicate at a distance which makes network communications essential. Users of this technology should have an idea of the appropriate use of each, and each puts unique responsibilities on the user.

Cell phones are a great example of this. A cell phone should be used at any time synchronous communication is preferred or if the message is large and requires immediate feedback. Using a cell phone, though, places responsibility on the caller to ensure that they are free from distraction and will continue to have proper battery and signal strength during the entirety of the call.

Instant messaging and text messaging are by far the least formal modes of communication and should be used when the message units are small and the overall message is easy to comprehend. Instant messaging and text messaging are interchangeable, though with text messaging, the users tend to be more mobile which creates a social responsibility to be mindful of safety. Text messaging should never be done while driving or operating other machinery.

Email is the new postal service. Many of the formal requirements of email are being shed for ease of communication. In times past, a person would write a letter, but now, they write an email. Email is the chameleon of network communications. One may send simple one-line notes to friends and family and use the same mode to send a very formal budget proposal to their Chief Financial Officer. The use of email demands that the user takes responsibility for ensuring that the message is formed in such a way as to be appropriate to not only the intended recipient but the information enclosed in the message. Email should never be used when the delivery of the message needs to be guaranteed or is so time-sensitive that its immediate delivery is paramount.

Most importantly, keep the recipient’s needs in mind when choosing a mode of communication. The recipient will usually make clear the modes of communication that they prefer.

Academic Goals

Settling on a degree program among the vast array of choices available has been a goal of mine for a very long time. Many people that I know always assume that I have already obtained a degree, no matter how many times I tell them the opposite. They are always surprised by this. Fortunately, soon after graduating high school, I found a career where I excel, and it has always brought me financial stability and the variety which I crave; therefore, I have never felt a professional need to further my academics in my current field.

Obtaining a degree, in my mind, is a personal goal that lends to the creation of academic and professional goals, both short and long-term. I only have one long-term personal goal: leave a positive mark on the society in which I live. This creates a positive personal growth atmosphere where I feel that I can accomplish any task worth undertaking. This is where I start my journey in academia.

The educational choices presented to me were quite diverse, and I was fortunate enough to have the time to weigh the various options. One of the issues that I considered heavily is the motivation of the institutions in their recruitment processes. More students certainly equates to more money, and I do not fault any business for making money. In contrast, I needed to find an institution that promoted other values as well, specifically societal values. Walden University’s values of promoting and affecting positive social change are admirable to say the least. This agrees with my values and coincides with my goal of leaving that positive mark on society. This is why I chose Walden University for my academic growth.

One of my long-term professional goals is to gain a position to be able to help rescue and rebuild in the face of disaster. Today’s society relies heavily on the free flow of information, and in the event of disaster, improving the stream of this data is crucial to the economic prosperity of the affected region. I chose to enroll in the Computer Information Systems program and specialize in forensics to better understand the specifics in disaster-related network response. This will allow me to help more people when they need help the most.

To use a long held standard, “The best way to do is to teach many to do.” So that I may do the most good, I wish to eventually become an expert in my field and teach others in the profession. Thus, my long-term academic goal is to obtain my Ph. D. to further the research and to continue to formulate best practices of recovery in disastrous situations.

Communication styles – In-person vs. online

Each and every day I am faced with having to effectively communicate with a variety of people, and a communication error on my part can lead to the death or a significant disability of a patient in my care. Complicating the matter, not only do I have to communicate with a variety of people, but I have to communicate with a variety of types of people. This variety creates circumstances where I must alter my communication methods frequently.

As Kathleen Daily Mock, BSN, JD, writes, “By incorporating effective communication techniques into daily patient interactions, clinicians can decrease their malpractice risk. More importantly, clinicians can positively and effectively impact patient health outcomes without increasing the length of visit….” (Physician’s News Digest, Feb. 2001)

To add to that, I must also interact with my co-workers in such ways as to direct the specific care of my patients and maintain a positive and professional working environment. To these ends, I actively look for verbal and non-verbal cues to seek out truth, meaning and understanding. Most perform this skill automatically, or passively, and do not realize it. (“Emotions in Man and Animals”, Darwin, C., 1872)

The use of online communication limits the perception of affect which creates a challenge to both the author and reader. Contemporary convention seems to have changed recently making the use of “emoticons”, or emoting icons, commonly accepted. Though I do not utilize emoticons too often, I do see the validity of their use in attempting to convey the lacking non-verbal cues that we are, perhaps, longing for in daily online communication.

As I have been an active participant in the online community for many years, I feel very confident in my familiarity with “netiquette”, or network etiquette. I am, unfortunately, at a disadvantage in conveying my thoughts to those not as familiar with the use of non-descriptive textual communications. To help counter this, I will assume that all communication directed to me is crafted of the best intention and positive nature.