This week, DYW groups across Scotland are taking part in the Key Worker campaign in order to highlight some of the key jobs that are being undertaken during the current COVID-19 outbreak.
Karen McLean has been a Paramedic with the Scottish Ambulance Service for over five years. Here, she tells us a bit about her role.
What attracted you to the industry you are in?
I guess my interest started back when I was in high school and doing my Duke of Edinburgh awards. I learned about first aid in preparation for my expeditions and found it really interesting. It wasn’t until much later, after leaving school, having a family and becoming a first aid instructor, that I finally realised at the age of 36 years old, I wanted to pursue a career where I could make a difference helping people who needed emergency assistance.
Describe your day-to-day role.
My job involves the provision of unscheduled urgent and emergency care as part of a team, usually working alongside an Ambulance Technician. Together we work to assess and treat patients which can sometimes mean working in challenging environments.
Every day is different, and we attend people of all ages who have acute or chronic medical complains, traumatic injuries and those undergoing transfer to definitive care. Onward referral of patients to appropriate care pathways and safeguarding of individuals is also an important part of the work we do.
As a mentor and assessor, I support many students, we will often drag out the training kit and run through mock scenarios or review the pathophysiology of a condition they've seen in practice placement.
What kind of training have you done?
To achieve a Certificate in Ambulance Studies, my initial training involved an intensive classroom-based training course which was around three months long, and also an emergency driving course. This was followed by a practice placement period, working on the ambulance with qualified members of staff, all of my patient experiences contributing to the completion of a portfolio. In all, this took around a year to complete and qualify as an Ambulance Technician.
The next step I took was completion of a Diploma in Paramedic Practice which took another year. This was a fast paced and really enjoyable course which involved a combination of short blocks at university with scenario-based training, some written and practical exams, several academic assignments and attendance at hospital and care-based placements. I also had to complete another portfolio during a period of practice placement where I was supported by paramedic mentors and educators. This enabled me to qualify, register and begin my practice as a Paramedic.
Having registered as a Paramedic I then looked to develop my academic experience and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Professional Practice (Paramedical Science) with Stirling University. It took me 18 months to complete the part-time online course, whilst continuing to work as a Paramedic on the road. This course helped me develop research skills and also increased my knowledge in the fields of pain management and palliative care. As paramedicine is a fairly new discipline, continued research is vital so that we can foster evidence-based practices and improve patient outcomes.
What skills have you learned?
I have learned about the anatomy and physiology of the human body and the way it responds to insult or injury. I have learned about the mechanism of various drug therapies used in paramedicine. I am able to assess and treat people with a wide range of medical emergencies and traumatic injuries.
My communication skills have greatly improved from doing my job, which is very helpful when I am trying to gain a patient’s history. I have become adept at working as a team with my crew mates, other health professionals and emergency services personnel, sharing and compromising to overcome problems together.
What skills are the most important for you to do your job well?
Interpersonal skills are vital because we must be able to establish common ground with pretty much anyone. It is important that we can make our patients feel at ease during conversation, in spite of sometimes difficult circumstances. A career in the ambulance requires people who have a kind disposition, who are empathetic, compassionate and hard-working. Versatility and flexibility are important attributes to help us approach and overcome problems. Research skills are also important as the profession moves forward and new specialities within Paramedicine emerge.
Was there anything about the job that surprised you?
Yes! I learned that most of the jobs we attend are not life or death situations, which surprised me at first. We deal with low-acuity patients much more often than we deal with very poorly patients.
Is there anything unusual about your role?
Our office is on four-wheels and every day is different. The only certain thing is our shift start time, and we provide a service 24 hours a day, every day of the year, in all weathers. We have the most enormous and unique privilege of being invited into the homes of strangers, often when they feel at their lowest and I find this very humbling. I am often reminded of how precious life is and my job has helped give me perspective about what is truly important.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
‘Saving lives’ is probably too obvious an answer, but honestly I think all of our crews really just enjoy making a positive difference for the patients we attend.
I particularly enjoy mentoring our students as they develop their patient assessment and clinical skills. Buying into their professional development, witnessing their confidence grow and skills improve feels great.
Did you always want to pursue a career in this industry?
No, but I always had a fascination about the human body and first aid which on reflection, makes me think I probably always had it in me.
What is your advice to school leavers looking to start a job in your organisation?
Currently there are a couple of options and both of those require a good standard of secondary education as a foundation from which to build. At present, many ambulance trusts offer an apprenticeship style of employment which enables students to earn a salary whilst they work towards qualifying. New recruits can join the Scottish Ambulance Service as a student technician and progress as I did, over a few years.
Soon, Paramedics will require to achieve a degree in paramedicine before they can register to practice.
My advice would be that anyone looking to pursue a career like mine, must first gain their driver’s licence and then take undertake additional training to obtain a ‘Category C’ on their driver’s licence, as this is essential for driving our ambulances. You need to have held a driving licence for two years before you can apply to Scottish Ambulance Service.
As the job involves working with people, any experience you can gain working with people is beneficial, i.e. experience of working in health or social care.
What is your career goal?
I would like to become an advanced practitioner and/or a clinical training officer.
What is it like to be a key worker during the country’s fight against COVID-19?
I have sometimes been scared, but the media hype is probably accountable for that. I feel that my employers have looked after my crew mates and I very well, having risk assessed and protected our vulnerable members of staff, whilst providing continual guidance to inform our clinical practice and making sure crews have the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline duties.
I feel very fortunate to have the best colleagues, not only our ambulance crews, but across the NHS as a whole.
Tell us what makes you proud to be a key worker?
For me, I am proud to actively support our students, cheering them on as they meet the demands of the job during these unprecedented times, whilst simultaneously working hard to complete their portfolio and periodic assessments. Our students are my honour and inspiration.
To learn more about careers with the Scottish Ambulance Service, visit their website here.