Reformulations of practice: beyond experience in paramedic airway management

Justin Mausz, Seanan Donovan, Meghan McConnell, Corey Lapalme, Andrea Webb, Elizabeth Feres and Walter Tavares

"Deliberate practice" and "feedback" are necessary for the development of expertise. We explored clinical performance in settings where these features are inconsistent or limited, hypothesizing that even in algorithmic domains of practice, clinical performance reformulates in ways that may threaten patient safety, and that experience fails to predict performance.


Paramedics participated in two recorded simulation sessions involving airway management, which were analyzed three ways: first, we identified variations in "decision paths" by coding the actions of the participants according to an airway management algorithm. Second, we identified cognitive schemas driving behavior using qualitative descriptive analysis. Third, clinical performances were evaluated using a global rating scale, checklist, and time to achieve ventilation; the relationship between experience and these metrics was assessed using Pearson's correlation.


Thirty participants completed a total of 59 simulations. Mean experience was 7.2 (SD=5.8) years. We observed highly variable practice patterns and identified idiosyncratic decision paths and schemas governing practice. We revealed problematic performance deficiencies related to situation awareness, decision making, and procedural skills. There was no association between experience and clinical performance (Scenario 1: r=0.13, p=0.47; Scenario 2: r=−0.10, p=0.58), or the number of errors (Scenario 1: r=.10, p=0.57; Scenario 2: r=0.25, p=0.17) or the time to achieve ventilation (Scenario 1: r=0.53, p=0.78; Scenario 2: r=0.27, p=0.15).


Clinical performance was highly variable when approaching an algorithmic problem, and procedural and cognitive errors were not attenuated by provider experience. These findings suggest reformulations of practice emerge in settings where feedback and deliberate practice are limited.