Words by Rowan Campbell
It was the end of 2019 and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) graduating Bachelor of Paramedic Science class desperately scrambled to apply for every Paramedic job available in Australia. As the graduation ceremony loomed, it dawned on us that thousands of paramedic graduates throughout Australia had just done the same. Competition was going to be fierce.
Looking back, the only openings available at the time were with the ACT Ambulance Service (five positions), SA Ambulance Service (20 positions) and the NSW Ambulance Service (unknown positions). One failed ACT Ambulance exam later due to my study mentality of ‘she’ll be right mate’, and no dice with SA Ambulance, I knew I had to start considering extraordinary opportunities abroad. Fast forward to March, 2020 and I had moved to NSW to be a part of the very first COVID19 intake crew with the NSW Ambulance Service. Less than 30 of us landed our dream job in a time of complete uncertainty. I left my six weeks of training with some lifelong friends. However, I knew I wanted more. I wanted my new career as a paramedic to be something significant. As a self-proclaimed gypsy and someone who has now lived in five different cities, it felt right that (despite the global pandemic) my next adventure would be in Canada.
Shortly after getting my new graduate posting on the Central Coast of NSW, I applied for a paramedic role with the British Columbia Emergency Health Services (BCEHS). Coupled with my most praised tinder photo of me in uniform holding someone’s beautiful dogs, I sent off my BCEHS application. Fast forward one year and I was handing in my resignation letter on graduation day to the NSW Ambulance Service and booking my flights to Vancouver.At the time of writing this, I have been with the BCEHS as a Primary Care Paramedic (PCP) for close to eight months and have lived in Vancouver for 11 months. The application process for BCEHS was very straight forward and, despite the complexities of COVID19, it took approximately eight months to receive my job offer. Charlie, who was part of the Talent Acquisition Team within the BCEHS was exceptional and stuck with me every step of the way. Despite hitting every possible roadblock imaginable, our perseverance became a success story.
For any paramedic considering the move to Canada, I strongly recommend jumping onto a website called internationalparamedics.com. This website, put together by Leon Baranowski and Richard Armour (both influential and experienced paramedics), is an extremely useful resource and it will guide you every step of the way. The biggest challenges I faced (apart from the global pandemic, visa woes, lack of international flights, delayed processing times on all legal and non-legal documents and, at the time, Australia’s strict closed border policy) was navigating the paramedic licensing processes in Canada. The question I get asked by every paramedic looking to work here in British Columbia (BC) is what paramedic license level they should apply for. The Canadian Organisation of Paramedic Regulators (COPR) is used by provincial paramedic regulators to grant registration and licensing to international individuals in order to practice as a paramedic. In BC, the three main paramedic license levels are Primary Care Paramedic (PCP), Advanced Care Paramedic (ACP) and Critical Care Paramedic (CCP). The ACP role within the BCEHS is to that of an Intensive Care Paramedic in Australia. The COPR utilises the 2011 National Occupational Competency Profile (NOCP) to assess international paramedics and ultimately determines what level you can work at. Both the COPR website and International Paramedics website has an assessment tool to help determine what level you stand at. The Paramedic Science Bachelor Degrees offered throughout Australia are held to a very high standard. However, when completing the NOCP assessment, many of those who hold these degrees fall short of the ACP license but well above the PCP license.
So where is the shortfall? The ACP level in Canada and BC offers a huge scope of practice. This scope includes complex procedures such as cricothyrotomy, intubation, cardiac pacing and cardioversion, and a large arsenal of drugs at your disposal. Picking what level to apply for is completely dependent on what your degree offered and if you have an professional experience. The consensus is that most Paramedic Science Bachelor Degrees in Australia lack formal education on advanced airway procedures. Subsequently, I fell short on being able to apply for the ACP license due to this. My strong recommendation is to undertake any course you have a deficit in that is required to meet the ACP level as based on the NOCP. Acquiring the ACP license before you move to Canada will save a world of hurt and hassle down the track. If you have professional experience, a formal letter written by someone with some shoulder weight, detailing your role and experience will go a long way.
Once the COPR has determined what level you can practice at, the information will be passed to the province you have chosen to work in. The corresponding Provincial Licensing Board will review the application and issue the appropriate paramedic license. Once you have acquired your license, the application process is straightforward. Most paramedics are initially employed on a casual/part-time basis within the BCEHS. Don’t let that deter you from coming over. The flexibility that the service offers is second to none. In my time here, I have had the privilege of seeing more of BC than most locals. Whilst travelling around, I often pick up the odd shift at any ambulance station I pass by. The level of flexibility offered by BCEHS has allowed for a substantial amount of self-growth and given me a significant insight into the true meaning of a work/life balance. The casual PCP role allows for an easy transition to focus on learning the BCEHS protocols and, most importantly, learning to drive the ambulance on the wrong side of the road with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the vehicle. Trust me, I have ended up on the wrong side (right side?) of the road multiple times and it has taken five months to be completely comfortable driving.
Overall, my experience with the BCEHS has been incredible. The service is undergoing significant and progressive changes with a huge amount of opportunity to get involved in all capacities. Through the hard work of all those involved within the BCEHS, on the ground and in management, the importance of emergency prehospital care is emerging and it is a very exciting time to be a part of the service.
As I now study for my ACP license and wait for my ACP application to process within the BCEHS, I can’t help but reflect on my chaotic decision to leave NSW Ambulance and fly to Canada during a global pandemic, essentially risking it all. This was the best decision of my life. There are countless opportunities awaiting within the service and simply being a part of the BCEHS gives visa holders the rare opportunity to gain Canadian permanent residency very quickly.
Without risk there is no reward, and ultimately my experience with the BCEHS has been nothing short of amazing. I can say, without a doubt, that BC is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A job with the BCEHS allows you to experience everything that is on offer in an extraordinary capacity. I am living my best life, and the BCEHS welcomes Australian paramedics with open arms.