Consider Tom Connellan’s first day in an ambulance. The Paramedicine student was stationed in Bendigo when called to a road trauma in Serpentine; a single car rollover and a driver with spinal injuries.
“Obviously when you first go to something like that it’s a big thing, and that was my first clinical placement, as a third-year student, day one,” Tom says.
“It’s quite a stark realisation of the reality of the job you’re going into. And for me that just reaffirmed that’s what I want to do, so that was a good thing, but I know for some people that’s just not the case.”
Tom spent two four-day-on, four-day-off blocks at Bendigo Central Station earlier this year. His second placement, in September, was in metro Melbourne, mainly Richmond and Camberwell. He says the two experiences were vastly different, and have altered his goals for life post-study.
“Most of what we responded to in the city was acute mental health presentations and a lot of low acuity presentations – patients that are not time-critical, so they can be transported to hospital,” he says.
“The amount of self-harm, attempted suicide and drug-related medical and social issues in Melbourne was quite prevalent.
“During my rural placement in Bendigo I had a lot higher number of high acuity and trauma presentations. Which is everything from high-speed car accidents to respiratory and cardiac cases. I think the reasoning behind that is in the city there are more intensive care paramedics, so when there’s a high acuity job, they either respond first or they get to the job and take control very quickly, but in the country that’s not always the case.
“I think, especially in rural paramedicine, it’s the broadest job roll. You need a very broad skill set.”
Tom says there are many personal qualities also needed to make a good paramedic. “There’s definitely behavioural and phycological aspects of it and that’s what the Victorian Ambulance service now interviews for, as opposed to pure clinical skills,” he says. “I think resilience and flexibility are also important attributes.” Perhaps Tom’s childhood on the family farm has helped build both of those.
Tom grew up 25km north of Balranald, in south western NSW. He made the 100-plus km bus trip to Swan Hill and back for secondary college, and although finished with a high ATAR, was unsure of what to do next. A gap year working as an allied health assistant in Swan Hill led him to pursue Physiotherapy at La Trobe’s Bundoora Campus. He says he didn’t enjoy it, so left to work for a couple of years before taking a fresh look at his options.
A mate who was a paramedic suggested to Tom he’d make a good ambo. Tom’s sister was studying at the Bendigo Campus, so he came and met with the Paramedicine course coordinator.
“To be brutally honest I kind of overlooked it [Bendigo] because I was under the impression that if you wanted the best education you had to go to Melbourne,” he says, adding a regional campus has been a good fit for him.
“You feel more like a person as opposed to a number. The staff are lot more accessible. If I want to catch up with one of my lecturers I can send them an email and make that happen … they know your name, they know who you are.”
A lot of people in Bendigo now know Tom – he’s a Bendigo Student Association board director and the student causes officer.
He’s also a volunteer Ambulance Community Officer. “It’s basically because I want to get involved as much as I can, because at the moment it’s difficult to get a position as a paramedic,” he says.
The role is giving him extra experience in the sort of community he now aspires to work in.
“Initially I thought if I wanted to go somewhere that’s really busy with lots of dynamic jobs I would have wanted to go to Melbourne, but now I’d definitely be happy with Bendigo, Ballarat or Geelong, because you get metro jobs the same as in Melbourne, but in Melbourne you only get metro jobs. That diversity and dynamic side of it is why I want to do paramedicine as a career, because no two days are the same.”
On the day he chats Tom is breathing easy after finishing his commitments for third year, although there’s plenty to keep him on campus. Right now, he’s on Wellbeing on Wheels trolley duty, delivering sustenance to those studying for exams in the library.
“I’ll be helping to keep people’s blood sugar levels high enough so they don’t need an ambulance,” he says, only slightly tongue-in-cheek.