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Hamilton Health Sciences Home
May 30, 2017

BLOG: From medic to med school

by Blair Bigham, flight paramedic at Ornge air ambulance and emergency physician resident at Hamilton Health Sciences

I opened my Facebook this morning only to find a video that made me feel nostalgic. Ambulances racing through the streets, paramedics attending to people in need, and lifesaving equipment being deployed by skilled hands and astute minds. Ahhh, to be a paramedic again.

It’s Paramedic Services Week, and I’m reminded of the career I had before becoming a resident doctor. Whether responding to emergencies in helicopters, ambulances, or vehicles that could generously be described as pick-up trucks – how else are you going to get to someone lost in Algonquin park with a broken leg? – my days as a paramedic were some of my best.

Often, people say “you’ve moved up!” when they hear I made the leap to be a physician.

Watching that video, produced to celebrate the work paramedics do every day (and night), I was reminded of my transition from medic to med school and now into the emergency department as a resident doctor in Hamilton.

Often, people say “you’ve moved up!” when they hear I made the leap to be a physician. I correct them, politely, that I merely changed scenery and adjusted my role. Moving up is hardly correct – after all, the helicopter pad is on TOP of the building! But in all seriousness, in many ways, being a paramedic was harder than being a physician.

At times, paramedics are sadly thought of as lesser-than other healthcare professionals, because their work chronologically comes before ours. In fact, without their work, we wouldn’t have any. Paramedics provide a skill set that is missing from emergency departments. They can rapidly extricate accident victims from scenes exported right out of Hollywood movies. They can act before they have much – if any – information, and put together puzzle pieces to deliver the emergency department team a clear picture of what’s happened. Their skills are formidable – not many physicians have intubated a patient hanging by a seatbelt in an upside down car in the ditch on a February night. And, they can communicate with patients (and their barking dog or curious cat) in such a way to instantly earn their trust and bring order to their chaos.

I often look back at my time as a paramedic and wonder if I made the right choice to leave a career I love. The transition from medic to physician has been exciting and rewarding, but the challenge of solving puzzles in the field – and the rewards of reassuring patients in their moment of chaos – are the moments of the job of a paramedic that I truly miss. But, those experiences are some of my greatest assets as a resident doctor

To all my paramedic colleagues, happy Paramedic Services Week.