Where are they now? Gabriel Hicks, Paramedic Science 2016

What’s happened since graduation? Heaps! In 2017 I moved to the UK and spent a year working for the London Ambulance Service. I was based in the Inner North of London and worked mainly around Camden, Islington and Kings Cross. In 2018 I came back to South Australia and completed an internship with SA Ambulance before working in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs.

In the second half of 2019 I moved to Waikerie, a town of around 2,500 people situated on the Murray in the SA Riverland. We are a reasonably isolated station and provide the only paramedic ambulance for an area around 100km in diameter. I have also re-connected with Flinders where I now tutor casually into the paramedic degree, something I really enjoy.

What’s it like working in a rural town? In Waikerie we are part of a small ambulance team, with only a crew of two paramedics rostered at any given time. We still perform the same kind of emergency response as in the city, but due to our isolation we often cannot rely on any additional ambulances for support. Instead, we regularly work with our local volunteer fire brigade to assist us on scene or on the way to hospital, and we consult with senior paramedics or ambulance service doctors in our control centre where treatments are needed outside our normal scope and training.

We are also on a first name basis with the staff of our local hospital, which is a nice difference to the city. Overnight there are two nurses to cover the whole hospital, and the doctors are on-call from home. This means if we bring them an unwell patient we may stay and assist to stabilise them instead of just leaving. One of the local GPs is also part of the RERN emergency responder network, and will attend serious accidents to assist us. He is often the only person able to provide advanced critical care skills and is always a sight for sore eyes. It’s really nice to be a bit more integrated with the local health network.

What does a normal day look like for you? Like all paramedics, my work can be highly variable. Our day shifts are 7:00am to 5:00pm, whilst overnight we work 5:00pm to 7:00am. Typically I will start my shift by checking over our ambulance and equipment to be sure it’s all ready. After this I’ll have a coffee and try to do some study. Our required base of knowledge is very broad and pre-hospital medicine is constantly changing, so it’s important to stay up-to-date. We also have training equipment and mannikins on station, so I might practice some more complex skills. Inevitably this will be interrupted by our actual job – to attend a patient, which could be anything from an elderly faller to a sick child, a vehicle accident, mental health emergency or a transfer between hospitals.

What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career? It is a hard to say. Paramedics are not so involved in big projects or deals, at least at the early stages of our careers. I think what brings me the greatest pride and satisfaction is the chance to be there for people in some incredibly intimate moments of crisis. To be able to walk away from these situations feeling like you made a positive impact during someone’s time of need is immensely rewarding.

What has been your most challenging moment? The majority of my work is challenging enough to make you think, but easily manageable. Inevitably though, sometimes things can be chaotic and overwhelming. Things may not always go to plan and sometimes things are just beyond our capacity to correct. Paramedics need a pretty thick skin and sometimes I feel that mine is still growing all its layers, but I am lucky to have good people in my personal life, a great culture of support amongst my colleagues and from my employer.

How does your current career compare to the job aspirations you had as a child? Throughout my schooling I was really focussed on the arts and social sciences. I was torn between a career in music or in social policy, and was mainly interested in addressing issues like social equity, refugee rights and access to welfare and healthcare. I had never considered healthcare, but after high school I took a year off and began volunteering for the State Emergency Service and Country Fire Service, basically on a whim. This inspired a passion in me that has really driven the direction of my life since – an incredible stroke of luck!

What is your favourite Flinders memory/ favourite lecturer? The paramedic unit in particular is very close knit. Our lecturers are very passionate and mainly actual paramedics with a significant interest in education, lots of whom still work on road. I was also lucky to have a really awesome year level with peers that took good care of each other, many of whom are now my colleagues and still close friends. The extracurricular events through our student society, and obligatory pub crawls, were a really great part of the experience. It’s hard to pick a favourite memory, but in third year myself and two good friends won an internal competition to represent Flinders at the national student paramedics conference in Sydney. Flinders funded our flights and accommodation and we competed in a simulation challenge against other paramedic programs. It was a really lucky opportunity to meet enthusiastic students from across the country and I’m still connected with a lot of them.

How did your time at Flinders University change you both professionally and personally? I couldn’t have imagined just how much I’d change throughout the Flinders degree. I started as a un-sorted bundle of enthusiasm with little experience in the sciences or healthcare, and finished as an unashamed physiology nerd with a very clear idea of what I wanted to do in paramedicine and how I thought I could get there.

What are your future goals and plans? Nothing is set in stone, but it almost certainly will involve further study. I am currently looking to apply for medical schools, and the pathway open to paramedic graduates at Flinders might mean I am back for another 4 years. However, if this doesn’t eventuate, paramedicine is an incredibly exciting profession to be part of. I would love to complete my masters in paramedicine to develop my skills in critical or urgent care and be part of driving the profession forward.

As of 2021, the College of Medicine and Public Health is excited to begin offering a Bachelor of Paramedic Science in the NT! 

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