7 things paramedics wish you knew about their job

About 150 paramedics work on P.E.I. — responding to Islanders' health needs and providing support during some of their most difficult times.

Just don't call them ambulance drivers

Holly Noel holds her nephew Tucker MacPherson in front of an ambulance. Noel says a lot of the work she does is community-based. (Submitted by Holly Noel)

About 150 paramedics work on P.E.I. — responding to Islanders' health needs and providing support during some of their most difficult times.

This week is Paramedic Services Week, and we asked some of P.E.I.'s paramedics what they wished the public understood about the work they do.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about paramedicine," said Holly Noel, an advanced care paramedic with Island EMS and the education director for the Paramedic Association of Prince Edward Island.

1. They're highly educated

Noel, a paramedic for seven years who primarily works out of Belfast, P.E.I., said the public often doesn't understand how much education it takes to become a paramedic.

"I think a lot of people still think it's like you just have to have a first aid certificate and a driver's licence. No, it is not that at all," she said.

It currently takes two years to get a primary care licence for paramedicine through Holland College, and another year to become an advanced care paramedic.

Michael Hannah, centre, with fellow paramedics Michael MacKenzie, left, and Mike MacDonald, right. (Submitted by Michael Hannah)

Just a few weeks ago Michael Hannah, also an advanced care paramedic with Island EMS, became the first person to graduate from UPEI's new B.Sc. program in paramedicine, something he said has really helped him understand the foundation of what he does on the job.

"Science and medicine changes every day, it's really challenging to keep up — so really understanding how our practice is going to change over the next five years, how we're going to use new research and evidence to affect the kind of care that we're providing," he said of what he learned from the program.

2. The standards are 'incredibly high'

The education continues with on the job training, as well as what Noel calls "incredibly high" standards.

"For your whole first year, they audit every single patient care report you do. They ask you questions about absolutely everything you did, so it makes you very conscious of every single clinical decision that you're making," she said.

Holly Noel says paramedics are held to an 'incredibly high' standard on the job, which she says is as it should be. (Submitted by Holly Noel)

"And the standards should be high."

3. They care

Hannah has been a paramedic for about a decade. He said he's bothered when he hears someone say they don't think paramedics care — and are only there because it's their job.

Hannah says the paramedics he works with are passionate about what they do. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"We generally do care. We're not doing this for the money or for the fame," he said. "Genuinely people doing this line of work are in this because they genuinely love helping people."

4. It's not all accidents and trauma

Noel said when people think of paramedics, they often think of crashes and other traumatic incidents.

"When people think of paramedics they think you're getting in a truck and you're driving a million miles an hour to a car accident and then you're driving to the hospital as fast as you can," she said, adding that while she does attend motor vehicle accidents and other traumas, she said a lot of her time is spent in the community.

In addition to emergency calls, paramedics also do a lot of work in the community, says Noel. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"We do a lot of chronic health conditions, we do a lot of work with seniors … we go to a lot of palliative patients — all incredibly rewarding calls where you feel like you're really making a difference in these people's lives."

5. It's a changing profession

"It wasn't very long ago that … it was a ride in an ambulance — a very fast and unsafe drive to the hospital," said Hannah. "Now we're really focusing on bringing the emergency department to our patients."

Hannah cited the level of care paramedics are able to provide — including starting IVs, giving medications and fluid, and treating a variety of emergency conditions.

Noel was recently in Ottawa to lobby on behalf of paramedics. (Submitted by Holly Noel)

"It's a profession that's evolving and it's evolved so much and it's evolved so fast," said Noel.

She cited other provinces where paramedics do wellness checks, mental health visits and support to known high-risk drug users — all things she would like to see in P.E.I.

"It changes and it's just increasing in leaps and bounds, so I'm very excited to be a part of it," she said.

6. Don't hesitate to call

Both Hannah and Noel said they wished people knew more about the scope of what they do, in hopes that would lead them to call for help sooner or at all.

"They're like, 'No, I'll just drive my car when I'm having chest pains, to the hospital'. No, please don't do that. Please just call us. We'll start the wheels of emergency medicine the second that we hit your door," said Noel. 

"If we don't think you need to go to the hospital that day or this is an issue that can be handled by your family doctor, we'll tell you that," she said.

The profession is changing quickly, said Hannah and Noel, and paramedics are able to provide a high level of emergency care before a patient reaches the hospital. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Hannah said that he hears a lot of situations where people have a family member drive them instead.

"I think that if people really understood that getting an ambulance in five minutes may give you a lot of access to a lot of that care that a person needs, I think it would really help the people that we provide for," he said.

Noel added that if a patient decides they don't want to go to hospital, they don't have to.

7. Don't call them ambulance drivers

"There's two words that make every paramedic cringe and it's 'ambulance driver,'" said Hannah. "Driving the ambulance is only the tip of the iceberg."

He said he cringes because the term doesn't acknowledge how "highly skilled and dedicated our paramedics are on P.E.I."

Yes, paramedics sometimes drive the ambulance, but don't call them 'ambulance drivers.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

Noel said she usually sees it as an opportunity to educate others.

"I'm pretty easygoing … I'm not going to get offended if someone calls me an ambulance driver, unless they're doing it to be insulting," she said. "The more that we can let people know that, 'I'm a paramedic, this is a profession' … I'll let people know."

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