Name: Jo Innes
Field of Work: Emergency medical services
Place of Birth: Ottawa, Ontario
Job Title: Paramedic
You've seen them on TV, they're always running around, saving lives, and just being all kinds of awesome. But have you ever wanted to know what the real day to day life of a paramedic is like? It's definitely exciting, but it turns out there's a lot more to it than we see in popular culture. In this career profile, Jo Innes gives us a sneak peek at what really goes on in those ambulances. [Editor's note: Not only is Jo a paramedic, she's also in med school! Yeah, we don't know how she does it either.]
What is a paramedic?
Paramedics provide pre-hospital care to medical and trauma patients and transport them to definitive care (i.e. a hospital). In my case, I work for an ambulance service that responds strictly to 911 calls. A lot of services are mixed 911 and non-emergent transport, and some are strictly non-emergent. The medical care I provide includes the administration of multiple different medications, endotracheal and nasotracheal intubation (insertion of breathing tubes), cardiac monitoring and defibrillation, trauma care (bandaging, splinting, etc), rescue boat operation, and vehicle extrication.
What is a typical day like for you?
There’s really no such thing as a typical day. People never get sick or hurt the same way every day. We do 12 hours shifts, either days or nights. I may spend a whole shift sitting in a fire station waiting for a call (I get a lot of reading done), or I may spend a whole shift running calls – as many as 14 or 15 in 12 hours.
I get to work early (5 a.m.), clock in, and load my ambulance with a drug kit (containing all of our drugs and IV supplies), a soft kit (a bag that goes in on every call that contains more drugs, bandaging supplies, and an airway kit for intubation) and a cardiac monitor. Hopefully my partner and I will have time to check off the equipment on the truck – we have to put our hands on every single item, make sure it’s all clean, functional, and on the ambulance it’s assigned to.
We respond to every call with lights and sirens and administer whatever treatment the patient needs on scene and en route to the hospital. At the end of the shift we clean up, restock, and hopefully get off on time. Sometimes we have time during the shift to sit down and eat, but more often than not we just grab what we can and eat it on the run. You learn to be pretty creative packing a lunch.
Did you always want to be a paramedic?
No, actually. When I was little I wanted to be a doctor. My stuffed animals were my patients. When I graduated from university I wasn’t ready to go right back to school, and I wanted to do something exciting, interesting and rewarding. I’d been really impressed with the paramedics I’d seen in action, and decided it was a great way to get medical experience and decide if that was really the field for me.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
Definitely the sciences – biology and chemistry. Language classes actually helped a lot too. Being able to speak French and Spanish has been incredibly helpful. Being physically active was also very helpful, since this is an extremely physical job.
Where did you go to university/college?
Carleton University in Ottawa (BSc in Biology).
How did you decide where to go?
I chose Carleton because I wanted to stay in Ottawa, and I fell in love with the campus (perfect for running and biking!). And believe it or not the beautiful greenhouse on campus and knowing I could take classes there had a lot to do with my choice.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university? If so, what?
Yes! After I graduated from Carleton I went to paramedic school. The length of the program can be anywhere from six months to three years depending on the province, and programs are offered at universities or community colleges. It also depends on what level of paramedic you want to be – there are primary care paramedics (who deliver basic medical care), advanced care paramedics (that’s me), and critical care paramedics (who can do very advanced procedures like blood transfusion, use of ventilators, etc).
What is the coolest part of your job?
It’s so hard to pick one thing! I’m a social person, so I love talking to my patients. I also absolutely love doing procedures – putting in IVs, doing EKGs to diagnose an MI (myocardial infarction aka heart attack), splinting and bandaging. I get to be outside a lot, which I really enjoy. Working on the rescue boat or at sporting events is definitely a highlight.
What’s the worst part of your job?
It’s scary not knowing what you’re walking into. I’ve been on scenes that were definitely not safe – working car accidents in lighting storms, domestic disputes, patients that are intoxicated and dangerous, etc. We also get dirty in pretty spectacularly gross ways. A spare uniform is an absolute must.
What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?
It really depends on where you work. Some people work on a strictly volunteer basis, some work for private companies, and some work for government entities. Most paramedics are paid on an hourly basis – anywhere from about 12 to almost 40 dollars an hour.
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
A dumb mistake when caring for a patient can be really dangerous, so I have to be incredibly careful. The absolute worst thing I’ve done was accidentally stick myself with a needle. It was my fault – I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. It was a dumb way to learn a valuable lesson.
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
Be sure this is what you really want to do! Getting experience is a great way to decide if this is the career for you – volunteer with your local fire department or rescue squad. Find out if the paramedic service near you allows people to do ride-alongs. Get good grades in school, be curious, and be prepared to work hard.
What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
Talk to paramedics about what they do! Some helpful websites:
The Paramedic Association of Canada: http://www.paramedic.ca/
The Ontario Paramedic Association: http://www.ontarioparamedic.ca/
What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Thumbs up! Amazing!
What was the last book you read? Jam it or can it?
Playing With Fire by Theo Fleury. Jam it! It’s a great look at the NHL in the 90s.
What’s your motto?
You only live once.
What are the top 5 songs on your mp3 player?
Sleeping Sickness (City and Colour feat. Gord Downie), Camilo The Magician (Said the Whale), Sold (Dan Mangan), The Lost Occasional (Jim Bryson), Crazy/Forever (Japandroids)
What’s one thing you can’t do but really want to be able to?
I wish I could play the guitar!