Get to know your College: Kali Graham (Bachelor of Paramedic Science 2017)

What is your favourite memory from your time at Flinders? Graduation! Walking onto that stage was the highlight of my life. I was the first person in my family to graduate from university and it is by far my proudest moment.

Why did you choose paramedicine as a profession? I had previously worked in retail and finance prior to applying to study paramedicine. Working in an administrative role located in an office all day was not my ideal job. I initially thought about becoming a paramedic back in 2011 but brushed the thought aside after I decided that it would be a bit of a stretch for someone like me to become a paramedic.

I became increasingly unhappy in my administrative position and my thoughts kept coming back to paramedicine – it had everything I was looking for in a job: exciting, dynamic, working in the community, working outside. I couldn’t move past the idea and I’m certainly grateful I pursued it.

What is your current role and main responsibilities? After completing my degree, I undertook a paramedic internship with the SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) in Adelaide. After successfully completing that in July 2019, I began working as a fully qualified paramedic in Whyalla. The work in the country is more than a little different to the metropolitan role! For example, we are responsible for our own station duties such as picking up linen and medications from the hospital, whereas in the city these are delivered and packed away for you. We are also responsible for doing all priority jobs, including low acuity transfers. In the metropolitan region, this would be performed by the patient transport service officers. We also perform the regular duties of a paramedic including responding to priority calls in the community.

There are certainly some challenges to working in a remote location such as Whyalla. Due to the large service area we cover, it can be challenging when you have a crew out of town on a job and subsequent jobs come in. Another challenge is access to resources, which is something that most country services face. This forces us to think outside the box to come up with a solution to a problem, which is great to develop your lateral thinking.

Something that I have found rewarding is working with the large Indigenous community (predominantly Barngarla people, however there is a diverse range of Indigenous groups that live in and visit Whyalla). This is something that drew me to work in rural South Australia, being of Indigenous descent myself (I identify as Narungga). I feel that being an Indigenous health worker has mostly had a positive effect on building rapport and trust with my Indigenous patients. Having the ability to connect with the Indigenous community in such a capacity has been invaluable to me.

Another reward of working in a smaller town such as Whyalla is the sense of community you get. You tend to know people by first name and have an understanding of their situation or previous presentations. Being in a smaller community allows you to develop an ongoing relationship, which is something that rarely happens in metropolitan Adelaide, and gives an opportunity to provide continuous patient-centred care.

What are the three most important professional attributes that your Flinders degree equipped you with?

  • Resilience: I found university really difficult initially. I had been out of school for a long time and started in 2012 by completing the Flinders Foundation Course. Coming in as a mature student in a degree filled with predominantly school leavers was daunting. But I persevered through the first semester (which was definitely the most difficult) and it got easier through each semester. There were definitely times when I wanted to quit, but consistently I improved and began to excel in my studies.
  • Confidence: I think that it is important to walk a fine line of confidence in this profession. You want to be confident in your skills and abilities as a paramedic; however you do not want to be so confident you don’t know your own limitations. Something that my time at Flinders taught me was how to receive constructive feedback and use that to learn my limitations and when appropriate the course tutors would provide encouragement to build confidence. This is something that has served me well as during your internship you are consistently evaluated to guide your development. It proved important to know how to take feedback and use it to build your confidence and learn your limitations before you can work independently.
  • Communication: When I first started university, I was pretty shy. I didn’t really like talking to strangers and would usually not participate in group discussions in class. My studies pushed me to communicate with all sorts of people such as lecturers, peers, and SAAS employees during placement. Pretty soon I was on placement on an ambulance and in the position where I needed to talk to patients. Through consistent exposure to situations that completely threw me out of my comfort zone I have definitely turned this weakness into a positive. Paramedicine is 90% communication (with patients, their families, colleagues, superiors, other emergency services etc) and I now have no problem walking up to anybody and starting a conversation.

How does your current career compare to the career/job aspirations you had as a child? I wanted to be either a police officer (specifically the ones who rode horses) or a vet. Being a paramedic was only something that appealed to me as an adult.

How did your time at Flinders University change you? I think that my time at Flinders changed me personally by showing me that I am capable of doing what I set my mind to. I had a history of starting courses and losing interest quickly, but this course really forced me to engage and invest myself and I could not imagine not completing it.

I also participated in the Inspire Mentorship program through my time at Flinders which was an amazing opportunity. I was paired with four young Indigenous students based in Pt Augusta whom all came from disadvantaged backgrounds. This helped shaped both my personal and professional mindset about Indigenous health and also the large health, economic, and educational disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This experience was great and it really kick-started my passion for mentoring young people and encouraging more Aboriginal kids to consider careers in health. I went on to run a workshop at the Solid Starts program in Whyalla (before I moved here!) with an Indigenous colleague from SAAS. This is designed for Aboriginal kids from high schools in the surrounding areas to network and learn about all different careers in health. This opportunity really gave me a unique insight into rural life for these young people and the challenges they face daily and has only helped me in my current role in Whyalla.

What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career? Given that my career is just beginning, the highlight so far is successfully completing my internship. This was a very proud moment for me and is a testament to the hard work I had put in since 2012 when I started my journey towards becoming a paramedic.

What are your future goals and plans? I love working in the country and my plan is to stay in Whyalla for the foreseeable future and continue to develop my practice.

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