By Jennifer Sturgeon, Laura Hirello, Polly Ford-Jones, Madison Brydges and Cheryl Cameron
In many paramedic services and across the profession, there are limited opportunities for career advancement or role diversification without an advanced care paramedic designation. However, as the profession grows, more primary care paramedics (PCPs) are defining new career pathways. In this article, we hear from four women in paramedicine who have found the world of research. Although their career path and current roles are different, they have one thing in common . . . they are all PCPs.
From PCP to PhD – Polly Ford-Jones
As a paramedic student in downtown Toronto beginning my placement, I remember feeling that in some ways I learned more in four-night shifts than I had in four years of the undergrad degree that I had just completed. I remember being struck by the range of different situations that paramedics get to see. Situations that in many cases no one else gets to see. After completing the primary care paramedic program at Humber College I began working as a PCP in Halton Region, Ontario.
After a little more than two years of working as a PCP I began my MA in Health Policy and Equity at York University. During that degree, my research was focused on the social determinants of health (SDOH) but not in the area of paramedicine. During my coursework though, I began developing ideas for research in paramedicine. It seemed that paramedics were a hugely untapped resource for better understanding the SDOH, given their unique insights into what makes people well or not well (both mentally and physically). My research and continued experience as a PCP led me to see the intersections between health disparities and mental health in a way that made me want to dig deeper. In 2014, I began my PhD at York, also in Health Policy and Equity. My PhD dissertation critically explored mental health and psychosocial care in the prehospital setting. I completed my PhD in December 2019 and am currently a postdoctoral fellow at York University in the School of Health Policy and Management. I continue to work part-time as a PCP and look forward to continuing research in paramedicine as well as other issues of health and mental health equity.
Paramedic Research: A Supporting Role – Laura Hirello
After a brief but ill-fated attempt at university straight after high school, I decided to take an alternative route. I completed the primary care paramedic program at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario in 2011. Shortly following graduation I moved to Nova Scotia to work as a PCP and I haven’t looked back. After two years of working full time, I enrolled in an undergraduate program at Dalhousie University in Halifax. My original plan was to return to school so I could research how paramedics think and learn. Unfortunately, no supervisor was going to take on a whole new area of research for an undergraduate with an idea, no matter how enthusiastic I was when I pitched the concept. I continued to work PCP shifts part time while finishing my degree and ended up with a double major in chemistry and neuroscience.
Quite taken with the research world but unsure what to study, I started a masters in organic chemistry before quickly deciding it was not the area for me. I took some time off school and started working full time again. All the while I maintained an interest in research and education: I was an abstract reviewer for Dalhousie Division of EMS Research Day, presented potential projects at Pitch Your Proposal research events and attended all the medical research days I could. After taking some time off to travel, I returned to university and enrolled in a Masters of Health Administration program. While my thesis topic (health equity) is not about paramedicine, my enthusiasm for paramedic research remains. I still work as a PCP in Nova Scotia and am a huge proponent of paramedic research. I haven’t figured out what my next steps are, or if I will ever get around to conducting paramedic research. Regardless of where I end up, I will continue to be an ardent supporter and discuss paramedic research with anyone who will listen.
What’s An Abstract Competition? – Jennifer Sturgeon
I started my journey in EMS back in 2007 in Peace River, Alberta. I was a brand new EMR entering the dynamic field of EMS, never anticipating this would ever become my career journey. My plan was to return back to University to finish my teaching degree. Instead I went on to complete the PCP program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 2008, and I’ve never looked back. After eight years working in northern Alberta assisting in orientation of new recruits with Operations and Learning & Development, I left the north and took a position in Calgary Metro in 2015. It was during my second maternity assignment in 2018 that I was introduced to Dr. Ian Blanchard and became involved in EMS Research.
I will never forget the initial phone conversation between Ian and I. He wanted to know if I would be interested in assisting him in planning the Inaugural Alberta EMS and Paramedic Research Day along with organizing the abstract competition. I immediately said yes and following our conversation the first thing I did was look up “Abstracts” in google. Up until my encounter with Ian, I never knew AHS had a research department nor did I know anything about research. My journey into research has been fascinating and I’ve really enjoyed learning about abstracts, planning research events and meetings, contributing data entry to Canadian Resuscitation Outcome Consortium (CanROC) and working with such a dynamic team. Since the inaugural event, I assisted in leading the 2nd Annual Alberta EMS and Paramedic Research Day in 2019 and I look forward to our next event.
An Unknown Path – Madison Brydges
I have always been interested in people’s stories. It is no doubt why I spend a lot of time reading stories written by others, listening to patient’s stories when I work as a primary care paramedic, and often find myself immersed in collecting and analyzing my research subject’s stories. In one role, as a paramedic, my understanding of the patient’s story is to provide the best care possible to that person. As a researcher, understanding my subject’s stories allows me to illuminate and reflect on what it means to be part of a social group, bounded by the norms and values of a particular place and time. I balance my time as a primary care paramedic, a social sciences researcher, and a reader of many books to try and better understand people and their stories.
I did not know that this would be my trajectory in paramedicine. I completed the joint paramedicine program at University of Toronto and Centennial College, finishing with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a primary care paramedic diploma. I focused my time in the latter half of my degree studying social and cultural anthropology, where I was exposed to a genre of story-telling, ethnography, which is a form of qualitative research that aims to tell rich, contextualized stories of social groups. This way of reading, thinking and telling influenced me greatly. From there, I completed a Master of Arts degree at McMaster University, where I studied the stories of elderly patients who received care from community paramedics. I’m still in school, working on my PhD in Health Studies at McMaster University, where I am studying the story of the paramedic profession. Regardless of where my future career path leads, I think being a good listener and teller of stories helps me engage with the paramedic, healthcare, and academic community in a meaningful and insightful way.
As paramedicine continues to evolve, paramedic-led research will be a core component of the profession. From designing and conducting research studies to coordinating knowledge translation events like conferences, those passionate about research will be needed to fill a variety of roles, many that are not yet defined. Paramedics (regardless of clinical designation) are building the skills necessary to contribute to our profession’s body of knowledge and the future is definitely bright for the growing research community in Canadian paramedicine.