ESTEVAN — The vital work of emergency medical services professionals can be demanding, especially in rural settings.
National EMS Week, which falls on May 21-27 this year, is a time to thank paramedics, EMTs and the entire EMS workforce for their service and sacrifices. It's also an opportunity for EMS to continue to raise public awareness about the critical role of EMS in the community.
As part of the celebration of National EMS Week, the Mercury spoke to Estevan advanced care paramedic Mitchell Meyer about his career in EMS, to which he dedicated close to 14 years now.
Medical services weren't Meyer's first career choice, he said, but it turned out to be his real calling.
After graduation, he acquired a business administration certificate, but only soon realized that office work wasn't something he wanted to do. He tried a few different jobs available at the time before a career counsellor pointed him towards paramedicine.
"I was kind of lost looking for something to do, and the counsellor pointed this direction. So, I took a CPR/first aid class, and I was pretty interested in it. And I just felt lit up by taking my initial primary training," Meyer recalled. "I wasn't too shocked when they pointed me in that direction. I've always been generally a calmer in difficult situations, and I think better in difficult and more stressful situations. With all that, I was happy to try that out."
Meyer graduated from primary care paramedic school in 2008. At the time, he was residing in the Sedley area. He applied to several places in the province, and Estevan EMS was fast to offer him a job.
"The manager at the time was in Weyburn for the Sun Country Health Region, so I applied to Weyburn, and he said there was an opening in Estevan if I wanted to come and compete for it. I did that and 14 years later, I'm still here," Meyer said.
He spent several years working in Estevan as a primary care paramedic before he decided to go back to school to get the advanced care level in 2012. This training gave him more tools, which were especially useful in rural settings.
"As a PCP [primary care paramedic], I loved my job. I just wanted to be able to try and do more. So I went back to school and got the opportunity to learn to do more. And I've been working as an ACP for 11 years coming up," Meyer said.
Once he graduated from the course in Regina, he returned to Estevan and has been working with the Estevan EMS ever since.
"I just like the profession that I'm in, I don't really see myself doing anything else. I've branched out and have done a little bit of teaching here and there. But I've always come back to being on the ambulance, we've got great staff at work," Meyer said.
He noted that at some point he thought of trying to work in a bigger city, but through his job in Estevan, he discovered many benefits of being involved with rural health care.
"It's been good [working in Estevan]. When people are earlier on in their careers, they want to usually get into busy centres like Regina and Saskatoon. I was going to do that too, but it just never worked out. And then I met my wife who is a nurse here and she's from here. And we decided to set up here, we had two kids and are now both working in health care and raising a family here," Meyer shared.
"There's a big difference between working in a rural setting and working in an urban setting. In the big cities, you get more patient contact, but there are also more hands to help, there are more trucks around to help you if anything serious came up. And out here, it's generally only you and your partner when you go out to some of these serious calls, these calls that you really have to think about,” said Meyer.
“And then, not only that, but we also have to transport them for two hours. So, we're looking after some pretty critical patients from initial treatment, and then we take them to the hospital to get treated by the partners here, and usually when they're critical, they go to Regina. So, they're with us for those two hours. And that's something that the bigger centers don't have to deal with, those long transport times with some of these critical patients.”
He said he's learned a lot throughout his career in Estevan, especially during his early years. Not only do paramedics here work with a wide variety of situations, but he also noted that the Estevan EMS has many long-term employees, which allows him to learn a lot from experienced colleagues.
"In any first response, things can change in a second. And when you're driving two hours to Regina, those seconds feel like minutes, feel like hours. And things can change dramatically every which way in those two hours. So, it definitely keeps you on your toes, especially with those critical patients. But it's very good for new staff. You are with a sick patient for two hours, you have to find a way to deal with what you got going on in front of you, instead of a 10-minute call that you go to the general hospital with. It's good for your thinking," Meyer said.
"Another difference between working in the rural centres and the urban centres is there's a lot higher turnover in places like Regina," Meyer said. "I'd say I'm in the middle of the pack at 14 years; we've got a lot of staff who have more service, we got half the people with a couple years less than me. So, we do have quite a variety of experience of staff and we don't have that turnover the bigger cities do."
Join us in celebrating EMS week and our rural EMS professionals by educating yourself and loved ones about safety, actively thanking someone who works in EMS and sharing stories about how EMS workers made an impact in your life.