The Value of Mentoring, and the Difference Between a Manager and a Leader

Originally Posted in the NAEMT News Winter 2022 on December 23rd, 2021.

Author: Bruce Evans, MPA, NRP, CFO, SPO


As one of the early visionaries in our field, the late James O. Page, who some refer to as the father of modern EMS, once said: “As the next few years come and go in our field, one of the most common words in our vocabulary will become obsolete. That word is management. In this new age, managers will fail while leaders excel. People will refuse to be managed but will hunger for leadership.” In this era marked by EMS workforce shortages and burnout, truer words were never spoken.

Managers focus on process and have people who work for them, sometimes grudgingly, and often with one eye on the exit. Contrast that to leaders, who focus on people. Leaders inspire people to get on board with their vision and create the conditions for their team to work together to achieve common goals.

In the spirit of Page’s vision, NAEMT is thrilled to launch the EMS Lighthouse Leadership Mentor Program, which will pair up-and-coming EMS professionals with more experienced EMS leaders. Mentors can offer guidance and a sense of support to those who are newer to the field, to nurture their passion for EMS and help them carry it into the future. By providing this support, the mentor program aims to develop a new generation of EMS leaders.

During the listening sessions that NAEMT held with members last summer, a common complaint was that too many frontline supervisors have poor management skills. Some felt managers made their job more difficult instead of providing support. EMS tends to promote their best clinicians into supervisory roles. But the skills it takes to be a good manager of people may be different than the skills it takes to be a good clinician. Too few EMS practitioners receive any type of leadership training.

So, in addition to advice on education and professional development, mentors will also give mentees the gift of time. They will help their “mentees” develop the principle-centered leadership qualities that can help people want to follow their example and do their best for them.

For me, the Lighthouse Leadership Mentor Program is the fulfillment of a professional dream shared by Jim Page’s closest circle of friends.

In my career, mentors have provided me so many opportunities. Bob Forbuss, then the owner of Mercy Ambulance in Las Vegas, encouraged my involvement in national organizations such as NAEMT. When I complained about not having enough people to staff our units, he said, “Well, what can you do about it?” When I said we needed to recruit more, he suggested I write up the job description and make a budget for it. He supported it and gave me advice on how to sell working at Mercy Ambulance to new paramedics, leading to an incredible legacy of paramedics who came through that organization.

LifeFlight in Des Moines, Iowa, was another place I found mentors. As a 20-year-old intermediate EMT, there were trauma patients and MI’s and all kinds of calls to get excited about. Yet it was Chief Flight Nurse Cathy O’Brien, along with the other nurses, who taught me the value of treating people like people, not just a case of chest pain. She reminded me that the patient on the stretcher is somebody’s mother, father or kid. I learned a lot about patient care from her, lessons I never forgot.

My career in EMS wouldn’t have even occurred had it not been for my first mentor, Lee Thomas, a former Army medic and paramedic at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, Iowa. For some reason, he took responsibility for ensuring that as a paramedic student, I never took shortcuts and I learned to shut my mouth and learn from those with experience.

There were many others, like Ken Riddle from Las Vegas City Fire, Dr. Otto Ravenholt, Jeff Dyar from the National Fire Academy, and Don Lundy and Ken Bouvier at NAEMT. The takeaway is that your success and the ability to make a difference, to find real meaning in the work we do as first responders and in our affiliations, isn’t easy. The sage advice we get from those around us with the wisdom and experience to help you get over the hurdles is an invaluable gift. The NAEMT EMS Lighthouse Leadership Program will hopefully make this a reality for our new generation of EMS leaders.


Retired Chief Ken Riddle has a few words to say on the subject of mentoring.

“In every profession it is critical for leaders to share their knowledge and offer advice to those who are aspiring to become leaders within their profession. I have been fortunate to have had several mentors that have influenced me over the years, including the late James O. Page. I am humbled to be recognized by Chief Evans as one of his mentors and I applaud the NAEMT’s leadership in developing the Lighthouse Leadership Mentor Program .”

Posted by Rachel Ray

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