|7 Oct 2020|
|Amazing Alumni: Science|
I'm a paramedic working for two NHS ambulance trusts, London and Yorkshire. I have a bank contract with both, which means I'm effectively zero hours and can pick and choose the shifts I do. It's an ideal way to do the job I love whilst pursuing other interests, particularly rock climbing, which I also instruct. The paramedic service has been described as a hybrid "blue-collar profession” – blue collar because of the uniform, the managerial hierarchy, the manual nature of the job, the driving; profession because of the medical training and the proximity to the medical profession, plus perhaps also the impact you have on a person's survival and the requirement for highly developed soft skills.
I've always been interested in the emergency and uniformed services, largely thanks to my time with the Army Cadet Force at St James under Des Hayes. While completing my first degree (English Literature at Loughborough University) I joined the Officer Training Corps. Although enjoyable, it just wasn't for me, and studying the Humanities changed my views on authority. The police force equally wasn't for me. It was halfway through my degree that the ambulance service struck me as the perfect vocation. I completed my English degree and did everything I could do to improve my chances of a successful application. I then completed a 3-year foundation degree at Greenwich University (effectively a university degree without honours) again coming top of my cohort.
I love being there at a person's time of greatest need and being able to help in a very effective way. It's a privilege to be a witness to people's most important and life-changing events – including death. I also get a kick (in case you were wondering) out of cutting through traffic on "blues 'n' twos" like a hot knife through butter! At moments like that it's essential to keep a cool head and avoid the dreaded "red mist" (surge of adrenalin that temporarily clouds one's judgement).
The most challenging things are probably not what you would naturally think. Sure, there are upsetting things we have to see and deal with, but it's the daily grind of the job that can take its toll: seeing the flip side, as it were, of people and society (drug/alcohol misuse, loneliness, mental illness); the trials of shift work (days followed by nights – though not if you're "on bank" like me); and the constant conveyor belt of jobs we go to (there's rarely any down time during the average 12-hour shift). That's what can cause burn out if you don't look after yourself, find a work-life balance and eat healthily – something I make a point of doing.
The job changed quite substantially with the onset of the pandemic. Procedures around PPE (personal protection equipment) and infection prevention/control have changed, perhaps for good. For a month or so, the only calls we were going to were Covid-19 patients. Some of our patients were very sick indeed and we would blue light them to hospital for assistance with their breathing. Others would just need triaging (assessment and treatment by us) and could stay at home. (The paramedic service is anyway being increasingly professionalised, i.e. being skilled up to treat patients on the spot so they don't come to hospital. We're performing medical interventions now that would have been unthinkable a few years ago in a bid to keep people away from A&E. And at some point I'll be upskilling to become an Advanced Practitioner Paramedic and eventually perhaps a Consultant Paramedic.)
But it's an honour to be able to help on the front line, doing the job I've been trained for and experiencing a once-in-a-career type of event. The public support is extraordinary and has helped in a very direct way. People have been stopping us on the streets to thank us. And there was the weekly clap for carers, of course...the initial few months of the pandemic were all quite overwhelming.
For anyone looking to get into the same field I would say – do it. I get to help people and get paid for it, something that takes some beating. But be prepared to find a working arrangement that suits the lifestyle you want. I started to burn out and resent humanity when I was performing full-time shifts, but having a flexible ("bank") employment contract has allowed me to pursue climbing as much as I choose.
St James definitely helped me with not only my job, but life going forward. The school pushed me and gave me the confidence to be bold and ambitious in my life choices. It taught me to not settle for anything short of excellence. Studying left-field subjects such as Sanskrit and Classical Greek also helped me think differently about societal norms and conventions. And the music education we received under the indomitable Loulla Gorman was irreplaceable. The school eventually rashly made me Head Cadet and Co-Head Boy, which helped me take life more seriously and prepared me for my later academic and professional exploits.
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