I was a medical first responder for several years before becoming a paramedic student, and I know that experience has, is and will continue to serve me well as I advance in this career. At the same time, I've noticed some glaring differences between the two stages, the most obvious is the ability to think.
As an MFR, we treat because ultimately, we are told that is the way to do it. Some MFRs can explain why we do things, but a large majority can't really reason their way out of a cardboard box. As my prof says, this is the difference between a technician and a clinician. MFRs are taught the skills and they are able to carry them out, but a paramedic should be able to tell you exactly why they are doing things, what effect it has on the body, and all sorts of other details. I love this distinction, because I often felt that this was lacking in my volunteer work. There were times when I would question oxygen administration, splinting and even back boarding, to be met with a stone-faced, by-the-book response. Yes, I know that the book says we should consider spinal injuries if the patient falls, but when they land on their side from a relatively short height and have NO signs or symptoms indicating any injury of any sort, do we REALLY need to backboard them??
Anyways, I love how my teachers are stressing critical thinking, thorough assessments and a rock solid knowledge base. It makes me feel that I can at last break out of the trained monkey stage and get more clinical in my thinking and treatment.