Gender and Communication: How can it affect volunteers in Emergency Medical Services?

By Nicole Yammine

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           The Lebanese Red Cross Medical and Social services is the only national ambulance service that covers the whole Lebanese territory, with over 250 ambulances and 4,000 volunteers. This organization works around the clock to provide emergency care to the Lebanese citizens. Their already difficult mission has been further challenged with the multiple obstacles encountered in the last two years: from the political unrest, to the covid-19 pandemic, the Beirut blast, and the catastrophic economic crisis. Volunteers of the Lebanese Red Cross encounter countless of patients daily. Their work is set in extremely complicated environmental conditions such as noise, lack of privacy, over-crowding, and limited time, making communication with patients very challenging, but also, very crucial.

Although all rescuers undergo the same trainings and exams and follow specific and well-studied protocols when providing medical first aid; no psychological support training is given to volunteers. Consequently, when dealing with patients from different medical and socio-economic backgrounds, EMTs are at liberty to communicate with them in whichever way they like. This can create gaps and discrepancies in building healthy connections with the patients and can reveal some interesting aspects of how gender can affect interpersonal communication.

           The existence of two different genderlects -masculine and feminine- has been widely acknowledged. The feminine genderlect is characterized by a use of language aimed at establishing an equal, supportive, and understanding connection by adopting a cooperative mode in conversation, in which emotions are shared from both parties. On another hand, masculine genderlect is used to establish status, independence, control, and dominance by using a more direct and assertive mode in conversation that leaves little to no space for emotions.

           In a small-scale research study that included 34 rescuers from the Lebanese Red Cross (18 male participants and 16 female participants), volunteers were asked if they thought that females provide better psychological support to patients. Answers were grouped in the three following themes:

  1. Females offer better psychological support because they are more compassionate and better at showing emotions and building strong connections with patients.
  2. Females offer better psychological support because of cultural expectations. Females are taught to be good listeners and supportive, whereas males are expected to hold back their feelings and “be a man”.
  3. Both males and females can provide equally beneficial psychological support specially if they are trained in the same way.

Different research has shown results that fit all three of the above statements.

           Wheelan and Verdi’s study investigated communication patterns in males and females and have found that while females are more personally oriented, males tend to be more task oriented.

           In “Sex differences in Social Behavior”, Archer states that “sex differences in social behavior are viewed as having arisen historically from the societal position of women and men…” (Archer, 1996, p. 910). In fact, females have historically been predominately socialized to become caregivers as part of their household roles (Godfrey and Warshaw, 2009). Most informal caregivers are females, such as mothers, sisters, and daughters; and this makes it more socially legitimate for females to show emotions and express feelings in interpersonal relationships. In that way, differences in communication styles are partly attributed to cultural expectations. Thus, nurture, and not only nature, affects the way that genders communicate.

           Thirdly, it was shown that “health care providers’ and patients’ communicative styles, attitudes and perceptions are amenable to change through well-designed communication skill training programs” (Street. L, 2003). Thus, having a standardized training or protocol for rescuers to follow when providing psychological support will help in managing the heterogenous communication styles and offering a more homogenous, complete, and patient-centered conversation.

           Gender and communication have been the subject of extensive research and studies throughout the decades. Although a lot of research has been made on interpersonal communication in the healthcare and in the emergency room, little is known about communication within Emergency Medical Services and how EMTs communicate with patients when providing them with psychological support or when managing a conflict. It is undeniable that there are differences between how each gender tackles the above situation, however it is also important to note that gender is only one of many factors, such as age, ethnicity, and religion, that could influence communicative style.


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