Much to my paramedic student’s chagrin, I spend some time talking through some topics I think would best be categorized as the “philosophy of paramedicine”. One of the things that I have been chewing over recently has been the idea of paramedic-as-translator being an essential skill of the profession. 

I usually open the conversation by telling them one of my favorite trademark bad jokes:

There’s a doctor and a nurse in a room, they need a urine sample (I’m telling the joke so it emphatically not for a UDS)

The doctor says: “Excuse me sir, please micturate into the vessel”

The patient, of course is confused by the doctor’s medical jargon.

The nurse senses this and tries a different tact: “Sir, please urinate into the specimen cup”.

The patient remains confused, but the paramedic walking past sticks his head in the room to say: “Dude! Pee in the cup!”. 

This story highlights something that I think we do well: translate between the lingo of different professions in order to get our patients the best care possible. Sure, it may seem like second nature but I argue it is a learned skill even if its an unconscious one. On scenes, we are able to talk to the police officers and firefighters in their job-specific “lingo”, understand and address their specific needs and concerns while translating these to the language you use with your patient. Then, the same concerns will be translated to the receiving physician in their language. 

An example of this can be seen with a recent call that I ran. The police officer called us in because his prisoner was “detoxing and needs the hospital”, we were able to talk in “cop speak” about how he got involved in the first place. When I asked the patient what was wrong, we had a long conversation about how he was “dope sick”, and that's the language our conversation was had in because that’s the language my patient was comfortable talking about his condition. Finally, at the ED when speaking with the physician, I didn’t describe the patient as “detoxing” like I had with the cop, or as being “dope sick”, as  I had with the patient but rather talked about his heroin withdrawal symptoms. 

This translation between “cop speak” to “street speak” to “medical speak” serves one purpose: to get the best care for our patients; this is why I feel that it’s such an important skill to hone. We should strive to be expert communicators, and while this is a small part of that, I hope shining a light on it helps make this concept “click” for others as it did for me when I first started thinking about it. 

-Jace Mullen (@JaceMullen)

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