Laura Green, a 27-year-old-mum and a student of the very first BSc Paramedic Practice cohort at RGU, writes about going on placement to Orkney.
Choosing a placement location
Well, I thought I checked my emails a lot while waiting to find out if I had secured a place on the BSc Paramedic Practice course. But nothing gets you checking quite as much as waiting for your first placement location. I checked my emails every hour of every day… and then it came. “Dear Student, your placement location is…Orkney!” Before we were allocated our placements, we were sent a form asking us to prioritise the locations we would prefer. After much deliberation with my husband, I decided to put the islands at the top of my list.
A placement like this was an opportunity that many other universities were unable to offer, and it was right there in front of me. I was excited at the thought of learning how healthcare operates on an island, especially working as part of an ambulance crew. I wanted to learn about the logistics and challenges that the island community faces. Not to mention, the stunning scenery is a big bonus!Laura Green, BSc Paramedic Practice Student at RGU
It’s a good job I was excited because there was no turning back after that. I was going to Orkney for eight weeks and if I’m honest, this was either going to make or break me.
Beginning the paramedic practice placement
Our first placement was split 50/50 between the ambulance and non-ambulance practice. The first four weeks were going to be on the ambulance, followed by four weeks in the hospital and community setting. I was so incredibly nervous about leaving home and getting on that ferry. What followed was some serious seasickness and anxiety.
It was difficult for me to leave my family behind. I had real moral dilemmas at times. My little boy is only 3 years old. Would he cope without me? I certainly wasn’t sure I was going to cope without him. But I made it to the island in one piece, settled into my accommodation and switched myself into work mode. It was time to iron my uniform and pack my bag, time to find out what I was made of.Laura Green, BSc Paramedic Practice Student at RGU
5:30am my alarm went off and there it was…that gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach. I was one of the first-ever RGU Student Paramedics about to walk into the ambulance station. A station with a crew who I was sure would be a tight-knit family.
How did they feel about this? We are still in the middle of the pandemic and I was worried about being a burden. What were their expectations of a university student? I had so many thoughts. But it was time to bite the bullet and fill my trouser pockets with the student survival guides I’d been picking up. I remember the mantra playing in my head on my journey to the station… “Just present yourself professionally, make a good impression”. I must have been like a deer in the headlights walking into that station, I was quite grateful that I was wearing a mask – at least that was hiding some of my nervous expression.
Soon I realised I needn’t have worried so much because before I knew it there I was, sitting with a coffee in the crew room with my colleagues as though I’d been there for years. I was welcomed with open arms and from that moment, my placement experience truly began.Laura Green, BSc Paramedic Practice Student at RGU
My first couple of shifts were with the ambulance Patient Transport Service (PTS). This service is in place to transport patients to and from the hospital – either for appointments or to take them home after discharge. Although PTS is not an emergency service, some patients are still very unwell and often immobile. This gave me the opportunity to start utilising my communication skills with patients. I also become familiar with some of the standard moving and handling equipment on board. After spending a couple of day shifts with PTS, it was time to move onto the night shift with the emergency ambulance crew.
At the start of my shift, the crew took me onto the ambulance. We signed on to the vehicle to let control know we were there. Everything on board had to be checked – equipment, kitbag, drugs, sirens, and everything in between. We have replica kit bags within the university which we use to practice with, but suddenly the real green bag sitting in front of me made it all very, very real. The crew were fantastic and allowed me to carry out the supervised checks. Everything has a home, with a label, yet somehow you just seem to bypass this and find yourself standing there whispering to your crewmate “Help, where does this go?” Checks completed. It was time for a coffee.
An intense experience from the placement
We sat down, but before any of us could take the first sip the radio went off. “Cardiac Arrest,” the paramedic said in a calm but urgent voice. Every possible emotion washed over me. A cardiac arrest is a worst-case scenario. It was time-critical. We made our way promptly to the ambulance and as I went climbed in the back, the paramedic handed me a PPE suit and said, “Are you ready?” I wasn’t ready.
I couldn’t even get the suit or a pair of gloves on; my hands were shaking so much! I felt car sick in the back of the ambulance and the sirens were ringing in my ears. I thought back to the training sessions we had. We had practised simulated cardiac arrest scenarios at university, and I was signed off on some of the skills required. I had a part to play here, this was it…this was reality.Laura Green, BSc Paramedic Practice Student at RGU
The crew were sat in the front and we went through our next steps for when we arrived at the scene. This was so important for us all. We needed to know what role we were all taking to help us work together. We arrived on the scene and grabbed our equipment. I took a deep breath and in we went.
When I saw the patient, everything I had learned came to the forefront of my brain. I truly went into student paramedic mode and carried out CPR, while the crew applied the defibrillator pads and secured the patient’s airway. A small device called a PUC is used during CPR. It’s placed on the patient’s chest, connects to the defibrillator, and advises you on how effective your compressions are. Nerve-racking, right? “Good compressions” the robotic voice kept saying, followed by a “Well done Laura. You’re doing a great job, pal” from the crew. I started to have faith in my ability in those moments. We all worked as a team that night and despite being a first-year student, I felt I contributed significantly to the situation.
Despite our best efforts, the patient, unfortunately, could not be resuscitated. I was suddenly faced with the harsh reality of the job. This was my first ever 999 call, and I can tell you that I went into that situation as one person and came out as a stronger one. This was the first true insight into my career, and I knew that I wanted to give this my all.Laura Green, BSc Paramedic Practice Student at RGU
The crew got me involved, supported me, ensured I was coping and maintained their professionalism throughout. I was in awe of them, as I always have been. I knew then that I was made for this.
Over the next 4 weeks with the crew, we attended a real variety of calls. Broken bones, falls, helimed/coastguard transfers, suspected heart attacks/strokes and a fair amount of adverse weather conditions to contend with. I learned an incredible amount during my time in the ambulance. But perhaps the most important was how to communicate – how to help patients to keep calm, how to reassure them and not to forget, how to communicate with your crewmates. I also eventually learned where each piece of equipment was placed. I’m still working on how to work the ramp… it’s funny how simple up and down buttons become almost impossible to get right. Perhaps it’s the nerves? I found myself genuinely sad to be leaving the crew, but it was time to move onto my non-ambulance placement.
Next four weeks
One of the fantastic things about going to an island was the opportunity to experience a wide variety of settings. I spent each day somewhere different, with the opportunity to re-visit areas that I wanted to gain more experience in. I spent time in radiology, maternity, inpatients, Neurotherapy, wheelchair service, home care, fracture clinic and even a day with the hospital chaplain. It was so important to experience the roles of other HCP’s. It helps student paramedics understand that we’re a part of a larger multidisciplinary team. The most important aspect of non-ambulance practice is understanding the bigger picture. It is looking at questions like, what does the patient journey look like after we’ve said our goodbyes at the A&E door? What happens if they have a serious fracture or a suspected stroke?
Paramedics have a much wider role to play and it’s important we understand healthcare in a holistic way. The staff that I worked with during my non-ambulance placement were nothing short of amazing. They were so excited to have a student paramedic in their department, and I was given unexpected yet amazing opportunities from them.
One morning, I started my shift in the maternity ward and was handed a pair of scrubs! “One of our mums is about to have a c-section, this would be amazing for you to see, let’s go!” I could write a whole blog on that experience alone. But my gosh, what a privilege it was!Laura Green, BSc Paramedic Practice Student at RGU
Overall paramedic practice placement experience
My 8 weeks on Orkney was truly the best experience I could have asked for. Yes, of course, there were hard times. The pandemic made things as challenging as ever. Trying to tell your son to eat his tea through facetime just isn’t that effective.
I’ve been asked quite a lot why I agreed to do my placement so far from home, especially as a mother. I did it because I wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted to take the opportunity to shape myself, build resilience and understand my own emotions without relying on the people who love me.Laura Green, BSc Paramedic Practice Student at RGU
We had regular drop-in sessions with one of our lecturers each week where we could drop in online and discuss our experience so far. This was great support for me. Now here I am, back home for our last module of the first year before going back out on placement again. The time is flying by and I can’t quite believe what we’ve achieved so far as a cohort. We will be graduating before we know it. But until then… let’s hope I can figure out how to use the ramp on my next placement. It starts with the basics after all…
If you’re a student considering an island placement – I highly recommend it. There are not that many places back on the mainland where you can catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights after your shift!