Entering the paramedic profession can be an exciting, yet intensely daunting experience. Student paramedics are a diverse and motivated demographic, who may face a variety of ingrained cultural, academic, and social pressures upon initiation into the pre-hospital setting. The protected characteristic of gender is a factor influencing our experiences and interactions within the workplace, a microcosm of wider society, and at times may amplify these pressures. Throughout this article, I will discuss how advocating for student paramedics that identify as women is integral to developing a more inclusive, safe, and accessible learning environment.
Student paramedics are an ostensibly vulnerable demographic within the occupational setting, as they may not have yet developed the confidence or social networks to feel adequately supported in speaking out against negative experiences involving both colleagues and service uses. Within the ambulance services in the United Kingdom, cultures of harassment and inappropriate behaviour have been identified. The College of Paramedics’ Student Council have initiated significant discussion regarding the exposure of student paramedics to this behaviour. Through the concerns raised, a series of free webinars that address sexual harassment in the paramedic profession have been created by the College of Paramedics, in partnership with the law firm Brabners. These webinars are designed to inform and enable professionals to identify inappropriate behaviour, as well as how to appropriately refer and support themselves and colleagues. It is important to recognise that it is not the responsibility of those experiencing harassment to reduce its incidence or mitigate its effects. However, providing the tools to enable informed recognition and reaction can reduce the sense of vulnerability experienced. Additionally, a paucity in realistically applicable resources to support staff and students within the context of paramedic practice has been identified. This has informed the focus of the Student Council’s strategies in addressing such a significant and nationwide issue.
Providing students with legislative knowledge, in addition to education on how to identify inappropriate behaviour, may increase confidence while immersed in an unfamiliar occupational environment. While region and locality specific support is also a significant factor that can improve this vulnerability, a nationwide, consistent message from the professional body is a strong and supportive voice to what can be a socially isolating issue. Even within the small population of the Student Paramedic Council, there was a concerning prevalence of issues relating to sexual harassment in the experience of the female student representatives, some in only their first year of clinical exposure. This is an unacceptable occurrence, which requires a national and multi-organisational response.
Importantly, it is acknowledged that harassment and gender-based discrimination is not isolated to those identifying as female. It was the female representatives of the Student Council that have initiated this discussion, however this information and awareness generated is applicable to sexual harassment experienced by those with any protected characteristic. It is all our responsibilities, as both a profession and a society, to advocate for those experiencing discrimination and harassment.
These issues facing female student paramedics have highlighted the pivotal importance of visible female leadership. The amplification and pro-active reception of female voices within the College of Paramedics enabled this discussion to form into tangible and accessible action. The College of Paramedics is privileged to have a network of incredible women that fortify and advance the advocacy of equality.
In addition, visibility in female leadership within paramedicine reinforces aspirations of student paramedics entering what can be a challenging career, through breaking down stigma and confronting prejudices. The power of image is not to be underestimated. A female face, conspicuously within a leadership position, can legitimise students’ aspirations and can breathe a sense of possibility into their endeavours. ‘If she can do it, so can I’ can develop a determined confidence. Inspiration can be found so readily amongst women in paramedicine, and the pro-active visibility of their achievements, strength and determination is pivotal in galvanising the next generation of women to push the boundaries and pioneer the next steps into the future of paramedic practice. Through their diversity and fresh perspectives, student paramedics as a demographic are inherently neoteric, full of potential to enact positive action and wide-reaching initiatives. It is guidance and example that can increase this potential, through conscientious efforts to develop mentoring, visibility, and opportunity.
As in wider society, innovation within our professional culture is essential in the amelioration and development of the experiences of women – both for students and registered professionals alike. While prosperous progress has been delivered since the advent of paramedic registration in the United Kingdom in 2001, there remains a broad scope for improvement.
Prospectively, an international perspective of the female student paramedic experience would be a significant and valued insight. Collaborative discussion between the United Kingdom and Canadian student paramedic populations would be an excellent opportunity for mutual reflection and exchange of experiences. This relationship could foster a supportive community of student paramedics, facilitating constructive international discussion and initiate an awareness of challenges facing women across the world.
It has been a privilege to work alongside a network of fantastic and fiercely intelligent women so early in my career. Their drive and insistence to support the new generations of women entering paramedic practice has enabled access to incredible conversations and opportunities. It is the passion and the endeavours of the women around me that provide hope of a more accessible, diverse, and empowered future for both women in paramedicine, and for all.’