If you came to me and told me I would be working for the ambulance service as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) a year ago I would not have believed you. In fact, if you had asked me 3 ½ months ago, I would not have even known what an EMD was!
COVID-19 has been devastating for many people and communities around the world. If there is a shred of positivity in the crisis, however miniscule, it’s that it presented me with the opportunity to join a wonderful organization and start my career as an EMD. Back in March I was just settling into my new home about to start my new job. Then it happened—“Sorry, sir, but due to the unforeseen … blah blah blah!” I was unemployed, scared, and anxious about what would happen.
I quickly rang around all the local job agencies and luckily, I was offered an opportunity with the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) based in the control room in Bristol, U.K. SWASFT has two control rooms covering 20% of England—approximately 6 million residents, swelling to over 15 million during holiday seasons. On average the Trust will receive 3,000 calls per day split between the two centers and each EMD takes around 70 calls per shift. These levels were pre-COVID-19, so the need for extra support was pivotal in the fight of the pandemic.
The initial role, termed a “call assistant,” was temporary. It was our job to help existing EMDs with the oncoming deluge due to COVID-19. We were dealing with other professional services and not the general public, which meant we were fairly well guarded in terms of complexity and triage. After about 1 ½ months, we were notified of full-time positions becoming available for an EMD role. I was delighted.
I had loved my call assistant role and was already thinking about applying for full time when roles became available. I interviewed and was thankfully selected to attend training. This is where the hard work began. I cannot stress how important the call assistant role had been; it gave me a unique insight into the world of EMDs and a basic skill set before I started training.
However, there were huge differences. We had an intensive course in MPDS® that was mentally draining, but we learned so much. We had four weeks of training, and each day seemed more intense than the last. During this period there were several assessments that helped determine our progress, a necessary evil but still as daunting as any exam I have taken. Finally, we did simulation calls that were wonderful preparation for coming into the control room.
As I write this, I am three shifts into taking calls from the general public. I have never felt more anxious and still require a lot of guidance, but with tools like MPDS helping me I feel comfortable that I am doing the best I can for the patients. Sadly, what brought me here were a lost job and a global pandemic, but as I begin my journey as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher, I could not be more pleasantly surprised.
Laurence Waring was born and raised in Bristol, U.K., with a passion for rugby. He graduated with a BA (HONS) in International Business at Plymouth University. After a few years of working in financial services, an adventure beckoned and he spent five years teaching in Southeast Asia (Hong Kong, China, and Singapore). Upon returning to the U.K., he worked in universities and colleges delivering English and customer service courses amongst other subjects before joining South Western Ambulance Service and beginning his career as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher.