Words by Ali Rengers
Imagine a student paramedic placement program that not only offers students the opportunity to experience frontline health care, but it also provides a primary link for vulnerable people to access basic health assessments. We present a MacQuarrie pioneered student paramedic program administering health checks at a local community hub, benefitting student paramedics and clients alike.
Founded by Edith and Mal Kennedy the Set Free Care Community Hub, located on the Gold Coast, Australia, is a drop-in centre designed to provide a supportive and safe environment for vulnerable members of the Gold Coast community. Set Free Care is a charity that aims to make a difference in the lives they support through the provision of basic human necessities including meals, showers, community connections, referrals and togetherness1.
Student paramedic involvement with Set Free Care was pioneered by Griffith University Senior Lecturer Dr Sandy MacQuarrie, in January of 2021. His friendship with Edith and Mal and recognition of their passion, hope and goals for Set Free Care sent his mind into action. Dr MacQuarrie believed that student paramedic involvement with the clients at Set Free Care would not only benefit the health of those individuals, but also the experience of the student paramedics, and he was prompted to set up a meeting with the founders. On the morning of his meeting, as he stepped through the door, a Set Free Care volunteer was bitten by a dog and his skills as a paramedic were required. The patient was well taken care of and Dr MacQuarrie’s case for the care that student paramedics could offer the individuals at Set Free Care was made for him. After further discussion with the founders and paramedicine program staff, and a thorough restocking of the extremely understocked Set Free Care first aid kit, Set Free Care Placement for student paramedics was born.
Set Free Care Placement is a unique Australian paramedic educational program. Each week on Tuesday and Friday between four to six Griffith University student paramedics meet a paramedic sessional or lecturer from Griffith University at Set Free Care. Over a period of three hours, under the supervision of the registered paramedic, the students offer free health checks to clients using the same basic diagnostic equipment they have encountered in their studies and on ambulance placements. Clients may wish to have a student paramedic capture an ECG of their heart, check their blood sugar levels or may prefer to have a discussion about the difficulties they are facing in their life. It is up to the clients.
Dr MacQuarrie believes the rich interactions between clients and student paramedics and the ability for these students to talk with someone who is ‘travelling rough’ is extremely valuable. As one of those student paramedics who was fortunate to be involved since 2021 I can attest to the richness of the interactions between myself and the clients.
While classroom learning is necessary to acquire the skills required to be a paramedic it can never truly prepare you to talk with someone from a completely different background or walk of life. Assessing a non-speaking, non-moving plastic mannequin during a university scenario is planets away from discussing and treating a laceration on a client’s foot at Set Free Care Placement. Working in the operational environment that is Set Free Care Placement fosters responsibility and independence, both qualities that are required in paramedic professional roles2. Studies have shown that student clinical skills improved significantly during clinical placements in a supportive atmosphere with positive student-instructor relationships2. The program is conducted to make you feel that the client you are talking to or assessing is in your care while the supervising registered paramedic sessional or lecturer is there to assist when required or asked. Interactions with real patients who have health issues and problems enables students to transition their classroom learning to the real world, preparing them for ambulance placement and their future careers.
Clients of Set Free Care benefit from the student paramedic-client interaction as they have their medical needs more easily assessed and met in the security of the familiar space that is the Set Free Care Community Hub. A table with some basic monitoring and diagnostic equipment is set up in a corner of the community hub with chairs placed around it to encourage clients to sit in if they wish to be assessed. Student paramedics are heartily encouraged to introduce themselves and not turn the monitor on or open a medical kit until they have explored what has brought the client to visit them. This ensures that the clients are listened to by the student paramedics to help build rapport and foster trust between the two parties before any clinical work takes place.
The Set Free Care Placements I have attended as a student paramedic during my degree have had personal benefit. In one instance I talked with a tense client about her current living situation, and she shared with me her concerns regarding her mental health. Her willingness to open up to me meant I was able to refer her to a phone counselling service that was both convenient and accessible. To me, providing a phone number for a referral is no huge feat, however to her it was the world and she asked and gave me a huge hug when leaving the community hub that day. During the debrief of the placement session I realised her delight over the phone number was really relief at having unburdened herself of her concerns and her gratefulness that someone was willing to listen to and try to help her. It is well known that big actions such getting an IV in or putting a pelvic binder on a patient can make a life-or-death difference. However, in this fast moving, unpredictable and sometimes callous prehospital setting, it is imperative to remember that small actions, such as actively listening and acknowledging a patient, can make a world of difference to their receptiveness to receive healthcare and trust healthcare providers.
The future of paramedicine is and will always be forever changing. Pioneering programs such as the Set Free Care Placement designed and implemented by Dr Sandy MacQuarrie benefit students and clients alike. More work to replicate similar support programs, and more research to improve such programs can only improve health outcomes for people, and better prepare our future paramedics.
1. Set Free Care. About set free care: A demonstration of love and good will [Internet]. Australia: Set Free Care; [updated 2022; cited 2022 Aug 03]. Available from: https://www.setfreecare.org/about-us
2. Brewster L. Effects of clinical placements on paramedic students’ learning outcomes. Asia Pac. J. Health Manag. [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Aug 3];12(3):24-31. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326436933_Effects_of_Clinical_Placements_on_Paramedic_Students'_Learning_Outcomes