Author: Douglas Richardson, Paramedic, BS-PSM
Pre-hospital professionals must be life-long learners. To accept anything less is to accept clinicians that cannot deliver the highest quality of care.
From the day of our first EMS class to the day that we retire, we need to continually gain new information. As EMS providers we should be reading and learning so that we can become better pre-hospital care providers. One of the main challenges is deciding what to read and if the information is valid and useful. The ability to read critically gives us a way to decide if an article, book or blog is effective and useful.
The most important part of critical reading is to be actively engaged in reading. Do not hesitate to underline, highlight and annotate the article. Read it slowly and carefully. Pause to reflect on important passages. Compare what the author says to your knowledge and experience of the subject. Set the article aside and reread it hours or a day later. Did you develop any new insights?
Evaluation and Critique
Once you have critically read an article begin your evaluation. Start with the author. Do they have the credentials to be an “expert” on the subject matter? What was the author’s thesis, the main idea that they want to convey? Was the article informative, persuasive or just for entertainment? When was it written? Is it timely or is it of such historic significance that it is timeless? Are the references credible? The answers to these questions comprise your evaluation.
Once you have decided that the author is competent to speak on the subject and have identified their thesis, you can ask two important questions:
- Did the author succeed in showing the thesis of the paper to be correct?
- Do you agree with the author?
The answer to these two questions is the critique. These are not simple “yes” or “no” answers. You need to be able to explain whether you agree with the article and why the author did or did not support their thesis.
Value of Critical Reading for Educators
As educators, the value of critical reading is found in every subject that we teach in an EMT, AEMT or paramedic class. Assign your students to critically read, evaluate and critique an article on airways, trauma, cardiology, or any subject being taught. Have them write it out, or give them a form to fill out and turn in. Then select a few students to do a short presentation. Our goal is not to turn them into great writers but rather better pre-hospital providers. We want to increase their knowledge base, teach them to think critically and understand that learning is a continuous process.
Behrens, L., & Rosen, L. J. (2007). A sequence for academic writing (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Longman.