An Interview with Flight Paramedic Carlton Irving

· Lived Experience,Interview

Carlton Irving is a Māori intensive care flight paramedic whose paramedic career has spanned nineteen years both on the ground and in the air. Through his clinical career Carlton has been championing change for Māori health and he has been made a Member of the Order of St John for this pioneering work. Whilst he continues to serve the community as a flight paramedic, he is also studying medicine at University of Otago where he was recently awarded with a commendation from the Dean in 2021. Carlton lives in Dunedin with his family and he recently shared some insight into his career. 


Q.  Where are you currently working and in what role?

I work several roles as I’m a medical student to help support my family while I study. I am currently a professional member and chair of Te Kaunihera Manapou, the paramedic regulatory authority in NZ. I work as a flight paramedic, a research assistant for Otago University on helping vulnerable communities adapt to climate change, as a Māori health advisor and I run a charity to provide health education and access to vulnerable communities. 


Q. Wow, how long have you been doing all this and why?

I’ve been a paramedic for around 19 years. I’ve always felt helping others is our shared responsibility and the glue that holds society together. This seemed the path for me. I’ve never been someone who wanted to wear a uniform or was drawn to driving fast with flashing lights. It was always just the chance to help someone in need that drew me in and why I’ve stayed in the job for a few years now.


Q. What are some of the challenges you see that are associated with being a paramedic?

It’s never the job itself that in my experience sees people leave, it’s conditions and culture of the organisations that seems the constant hotspots of frustration for our paramedic workforce. The biggest challenges are in having adequate support in place to keep people well on the job such as - workplace cultures that make people feel valued and appreciated. Clinical support processes focused on a no blame system to help us all improve together without fear and anxiety.  Commitment to diversity and inclusion in our workplace so people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work, and we learn to interact better with patients from all walks of life. 

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Q. Indeed this is true across the board, what keeps you motivated to do keep doing what you do?

My family and my faith. I want to try and role model a good life to my children and to live a life in line with my beliefs. I’m very blessed to have found a career that has been so rewarding that is in line with my beliefs. 


Q. Is there a particular moment from your paramedic career or a memory that stands out for you?

I’ve avoided sharing individual experiences on the job wherever possible. Those intimate moments as a carer for someone in need may seem trivial and just a job to us at times, but they’re extremely important to those who we care for. 


Q. You mentioned that you are also studying to be a doctor in your spare time. How do you balance your work, study and life?

Balance when you have to work almost full time on top of full time study is hard to find. And I wouldn’t profess to have that mastered. I prioritise family time and exercise with any time not committed to other things to help look after myself. That’s as good as it gets right now lol. 


Q. Recently you spoke on a conference panel about where paramedics would be in ten years. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Training in a specialty as a doctor. 


Q. If you could have dinner with two people, who would they be and why?

My wife without the kids. No need for a third wheel - just some uninterrupted quality time with the best person I’ve ever known would be amazing 


Q. What would you say to someone who is considering a career in paramedicine?

Look after yourself and your mates on the job. You can’t pour from an empty cup. 


Q. Any parting piece advice?

Remember careers don’t define us, it’s the people we love that matter most in our lives.