Meet the Crew: Gaynor Wareham
How is a critical care paramedic at EHAAT different to what you would find on a land ambulance?
The main difference between us and a paramedic in the ambulance service is that we work in a team with a pre-hospital care doctor. As critical care paramedics we have enhanced skills. These include being able to perform minor surgical procedures and assist with major surgical procedures. Because we work alongside doctors on a day to day basis, we are able to pick up new skills and knowledge that you wouldn’t on a land ambulance.
The extra skills that you have mentioned, did you gain them after joining EHAAT or did you have to complete training to get into EHAAT?
Some would say the actual interview process was a skill in itself! No, I didn’t have the extra skills, you are taught them once you join. The interview process looks at you in terms of your attitude, personality, character, passion and knowledge. Once you are in the role, each of these attributes is then enhanced and built upon. For example, you learn the thorocostamy and airway skills after joining. You then have chance to put that into practice if needs be.
Tell us about your career to date…
I joined Essex Ambulance Service (now known as East of England Ambulance Service after merging with Beds & Herts and East Anglia Ambulance) in 2004/5, based at Harlow Ambulance station. Alongside this, I worked on the rapid response vehicle based at Stansted Airport. This involved dealing with whatever required an ambulance response on the airport grounds. It could be anything from a person fainting to a cardiac arrest. You would also deal with any incoming flights carrying ill patients and any aircrafts coming in with faults, where there may be a problematic landing. I then joined the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) as an Operative and then became a Team Leader. Eventually, after three recruitment processes, I joined EHAAT.
We host a monthly Clinical Governance Day (CGD) that is open to all with an interest in pre-hospital emergency care. Did you attend these before joining?
I had attended a lot of EHAAT’s Clinical Governance Days before joining and felt it was definitely an organisation I wanted to join. I knew people within EHAAT who were incredibly inspiring. The influence that those days had on my career at the time, as part of HART and EEAST, definitely made me motivated and inspired me to keep on improving my own skills. They say to surround yourself with people who inspire you and push you forward and that is what CGD did for me.
I would advise anyone in this field to go to CGD and learn and be inspired and see what you can take away. CGD drives you to look into why everything at the scene happened in a non-judgemental, safe environment. I took inspiration from these days and introduced them at HART. It is a way of improving the service.
What do you enjoy about your role?
Oh my gosh, where to start?! I love working as a team and with people that have the same passion as myself. I like being challenged by the sick patient and having to think about what is happening with them and how we as a team can stop that. I love working with the Charity to push forward new clinical care and being up to date with the current evidence based medicine. I love that we can change our practice quicker than you would be able to in the ambulance service. I love working with passionate people who want the best for the patient. That goes across the whole Charity, not just the clinical side. From the Volunteers who are really motivated, we’ve got a CEO who is so inspiring as so passionate about what EHAAT does. The patient liaison managers, Adam and Tony, looking at how we can improve patient care.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to surround yourself with people who are passionate about the same things as you. It rubs off and pushes you forward. And then an added bonus is that I get to fly in a helicopter!
Do you face any challenges?
The challenges are the patients and spotting their needs early. As critical care paramedics, we have shifts on the critical care desk (where the air ambulance is dispatched from). It is a challenge to spot which out of the 5,000 calls to the ambulance service are the sickest patients and are most in need of enhanced pre-hospital care.
Do you have any stand out missions or moments at EHAAT?
A young lad had come off a trail bike going round a bend and hit into a concrete bollard. He had severe chest injuries which we were most worried about. We anaesthetised him (put him to sleep) and put thoracostomy’s (a small incision of the chest wall) in and flew him to the Royal London Hospital. I have seen him a few times since his incident: at his airbase visit, Motorcycle Run and North Weald Family Fun Day and at our 20 Year Celebration Event. They are a lovely family and were absolutely so thankful for our help. It kind of reminds you why you do this job.
You took part in Strictly Air Ambulance 2017 (and won!). Can you tell us about that?
This was awesome. The first year I joined EHAAT, I watched my colleague Phil Almond compete. I remember thinking ‘this is brilliant, I really want to do this!’ and so I put myself forward. My competitive streak definitely came out – I just had to win! At the time my dance partner’s wife, Zoe, was pregnant, giving birth about two weeks before the show. So she was trying to help in rehearsals with a big baby bump – it was hilarious!
What do you do outside of work?
I volunteer for my local BASICS (British Association for Immediate Care) team, to respond to incidents in my own time. I am also currently studying for a Masters in Advanced Paramedic Practice with Critical Care. My colleagues are really supportive and helping me through it.
I have two horses, so I spend time looking after them, grooming them and going out on nice rides. I have to be very organised to fit them in around my job.
If anyone had to brand my life, it would be ‘helicopters and horses!’
What is next in your career?
I love working with the Charity; the passion, the drive and the want to improve. I’ve been here three years (normal secondment time), so I’m definitely applying for a second secondment. I’d love to see myself as working in an advanced paramedic role, but I would like to still see myself as working with/for the Charity in the future. I have been on the edge of whether to go to medical school and become a Doctor… so who knows!
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day (Friday 8th March) is #BalanceforBetter. Do you think there is an equal balance of males and females in HEMS? If not, why do you think this is?
If I’m being massively honest, I don’t notice genders. I just know that I’m surrounded by inordinately passionate people that want the best for the patient. I hardly realise if it’s a man or a woman that I’m working with.
Is your role seen as an overtly male role? How would you encourage more women to apply?
I can only go on what I feel. I saw this role and I was like “yeah I want some of that.” I don’t know how other woman feel. I know that some TED talks note that a woman will read a job specification and wouldn’t apply if they didn’t meet the whole criteria. Whereas, a man would look at it and still apply for it if he did not reach it all.
It could just be more of an individual difference, based on character. I don’t feel disadvantaged as a woman, so I don’t know why (if they do) others would refrain from applying. The role is the role. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. We are all assessed on the same things. There is no easier fitness test for women. This is the standard, you either meet the standard or you don’t.
It’s not about being better than men, it’s about being better than yourself. I’ve never seen myself compared to man, I’ve always seen myself as ‘what can I do better?’
Thank you for taking part in Meet the Crew. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I love being here and am proud of what I have learned. This role is about motivating others to achieve more and improve. I was so motivated by attending CGDs and learning how to motivate those on scene. It would be lovely to put my enthusiasm onto others. I look at Lou and Erica (other EHAAT critical care paramedics) and I’m still inspired by them. I would love to join that team to inspire others.