This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Paramedic Educator Murray Scanlan, NSW Ambulance, New England Zone. Murray leads a team of educators, organising the education program, mentoring staff and contributing to Zone management.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in the Hawkesbury district on the outskirts of Sydney. Other than a few years in Temora, I have lived and worked in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains areas for most of my life. I moved to Armidale in January this year with my wife, Jen. Our son lives in Cowra and our daughter in Minden, Queensland, with our three grandchildren. This is my 34th year in the Ambulance Service and I have responded to events such as the Newcastle earthquake, Thredbo landslide, Sydney Olympics, Canberra bushfires and the Hornsby shooting. As an Intensive Care paramedic, I have responded to many critical and life-threatening incidents and have also volunteered in the SES and RFS, firstly as a responder and lately in my role as a trainer.
Why did you join the NSW Ambulance Service?
When I finished school, I stood at the gate and tossed a coin – heads for horticulture, tails for ambulance. The coin came up heads, so I trained at Hawkesbury Agricultural College and became a horticulturalist. With my first wife, Lorraine, I cultivated 10,000 rose plants on 10 acres, sending them to florists all over the Central West. Then my wife died in a car accident on our second wedding anniversary. I attended the accident as part of SES Road Rescue but I couldn’t do anything to help her. I never wanted to feel useless again, so I joined NSW Ambulance to help others.
In switching careers, what were some of your challenges?
Plants don’t talk very much. The greatest change for me was learning to read people’s responses. I also needed to develop a thorough understanding of the science of paramedicine. To gain this knowledge, although I entered through the vocational pathway, I completed a degree in Medicine (Pre-hospital care).
I imagine some of the events you go to as a first responder would have been quite challenging. What keeps you going?
People in emergency situations can’t help themselves but I can help them. My knowledge and skills have saved many lives. When that doesn’t happen and I lose a patient, I never forget that person because their life mattered to me and I may have shared their last moments. Even decades later, I remember them vividly. While I don’t decide the day or the hour of their passing, I must accept that I did everything I could.
What has been a career highlight for you?
I’m living my career highlight every day. When I was on the road, it was one job, one patient, one person. Now I’m a Paramedic Educator, I can influence 160 paramedics, who average five jobs in a day, and I can have a greater impact on safety for up to 3,000 patients daily.
What does your current role entail?
The Armidale Paramedic Training Unit is all about clinical safety. Safety for our paramedics as first responders involves educating, assessing and evaluating paramedics’ performance with a ride-along and targeted training. Safety for our patients means ensuring world’s best practice, checking that all procedures are followed correctly and rigorously addressing any concerns. As a paramedic educator, I lead a team, organise the education program, mentor staff and contribute to Zone management.
How does the Training Unit contribute to the community?
The Training Unit has existed in Armidale for ten years. Normally, we run courses for up to 220 paramedics each year here in Armidale. This involves booking local accommodation for two to three nights per week, catering for lunches and eating out in the evenings – a boost to the local economy.
Supporting the volunteers known as Community First Responders is an important part of my role and a personal passion. My team and I support CFRs in Uralla, Nundle, Tambar Springs and Deepwater. The value of the CFRs to our community cannot be underestimated. I was a trainer in the Hunter region and my wife took on various roles, including moulaging (applying mock injuries for the purposes of training) ‘patients’. CFR volunteers are outstanding people who are often already involved in SES, FRNSW or RFS. The New England has a strong history of volunteering.
What changes have you made to meet the challenges of COVID restrictions?
Since the lockdown forced us to cancel our training courses, we needed a new approach to communicating with our paramedics. My team has developed online learning portals and video conferences with team interaction. I created an interstation challenge – an online quiz, ‘Who Cares Wins’ – designed to provide interactive learning and promote clinical safety. Paramedics from the stations across the New England can see and hear each other as they participate in the quiz. It’s a morale booster, breaking down the isolation.
What advice would you give someone thinking of joining NSW Ambulance?
You need to be passionate about helping people and be able to cope with pressure. It’s not just a job; it’s a life that makes a difference. Gaining a degree through a university is a way into the Ambulance Service. Port Macquarie has the closest course for New Englanders. Graduates need to be aware that there are many more trainees than positions, so you may need to apply more than once. It’s worth considering a double degree in nursing and paramedicine, giving flexibility and more employment options. Vocational entry (on the job training) is another way to enter the Ambulance Service. I encourage young people to gain life-experience before applying.
What inspires you?
Working with younger paramedics inspires me. I enjoy making their learning engaging and memorable, with patient safety always at the forefront. However, being a paramedic can take a huge personal toll. Trauma, burnout and stress are big issues that paramedics are likely to suffer in silence. The average tenure for a paramedic is about seven years. By sharing my 34 years of knowledge and experience, I can encourage them to continue their learning and to care for their wellbeing, so they can make it a sustainable career.
We are planning a multi-agency (SES, RFS, FRNSW and NSWA) joint simulation. These realistic scenarios are set up to test response times and capabilities in critical situations. In the Hawkesbury, I organised a bus crash; here it may be a farming accident. It allows different agencies to practise together and evaluate our effectiveness. I have also discussed running joint scenarios with UNE for medical students. This would involve students observing and responding to simulated life-threatening emergencies, while working with paramedics.
After COVID, I want to find ways to interact with the wider community. I hope to travel across the Zone, meeting our paramedics and CFRs face-to-face. I’m keen to build connections and to provide support.