What does it mean to be a reluctant leader? Vocabulary.com would describe the word reluctant as “disinclined,” or “unwilling to do something contrary to your custom.” (Vocabulary.com) The same site would define a leader as “a person who rules or guides or inspires others.” (Vocabulary.com, leader) By extension, a reluctant leader is someone who guides or inspires others while being reluctant to do so. As a ten year paramedic the definition of a reluctant leader strikes closer to home than I care to admit.

As paramedics our first samples of true leadership often come minutes to hours after the commencement of our first shift as a licensed/registered paramedic. The safety net of our veteran preceptors has fallen away and we are left to our own madness as thoughts of what our first independent call may be swirl through our fertile imaginations. Will it be a big trauma? Will someone’s mother, father, brother experience a cardiac arrest? Imaginations wander fervently until the phone finally rings or the tones drop. What was your first call?

Every paramedic, no matter their license level, remembers their first independent call. For some it was a simple lift assist; for another it might have been their first opportunity to help bring life into the world. No matter what the call was, it was that paramedic’s first chance to lead another person (the patient) through a trial that exceeded said person’s ability to cope. In that moment a reluctant leader was born. In that moment a paramedic was born.

From the Australasian Journal of Paramedicine, “Three factors: ‘wanting to help people’, ‘exciting career’ and ‘saving lives’, emerged as the most important motivating factors for participants’ to pursue a paramedic career.” (Ross, Hannah, & Van Huizen, 2016) Isn’t it interesting how none of the identified factors included a desire to lead, yet every patient care episode a paramedic participates in involves leading a patient through a trying episode of some variety. Leadership is thrust upon paramedics by the nature of the work. It’s time for paramedics to own the very nature of their role within the healthcare system. It’s time paramedics found comfort in knowing their role is to provide leadership when patients or other health providers have lost control.

How does one transition from the role of reluctant leader to active leader? One definition of active leadership states that, “Active leadership seeks to involve staff in the challenges facing the group and gives them a role in solving those challenges.” (Albers, 2016)  Paramedics can become active leaders by engaging each other as agents of change for their own future. By becoming active leaders, paramedics take ownership of their profession in ways not previously afforded them. Formation of the BC Paramedic Association is one form of active leadership. As active leaders the BCPA will be seek the assistance of all paramedics in facing the challenges before the profession as it continues to grow and develop.

Moving forward the BCPA will ask paramedics to provide Professional Leadership in the areas of Clinical Practice Excellence, Higher Education, and Paramedic Research. Leadership in these areas does not have to come through direct committee involvement. Participation in study data collection, precepting, interdisciplinary communication, and following evidence based standards of practice, are all areas every paramedic can actively display the leadership qualities necessity has breed into the profession.



Albers, J. (2016, 02 22). Active vs Passive Leadership. Retrieved 11 07, 2018, from linkedin.com: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/active-vs-passive-leadership-james-albers

Ross, L., Hannah, J., & Van Huizen, P. (2016). What motivates students to pursue a career in paramedicine. Australasian Journal of Paramedicine, 13(1), 01 to 07.

Vocabulary.com. (n.d.). leader. Retrieved 11 07, 2018, from Vocabulary.com: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/leader

Vocabulary.com. (n.d.). Reluctant. Retrieved 11 07, 2018, from Vocabulary.com: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/reluctant

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