Not all Lights and Sirens: Taking on the Challenge

In Nova Scotia, there are over 1,100+ paramedics who dedicate their lives to public service. To help better understand what daily life is like on the front lines of health care, we went behind the scenes, capturing the experiences of these first responders in their own words and photos.

A Journey

The medicine kits have been checked, the truck is prepped and ready to go.

All that’s left for Sydney Furlong before she leaves for another shift as a paramedic in the Valley is some last-minute instructions from her supervisor, Ian MacLean at the regional station in Coldbrook.

Sydney Furlong and Lea Ackerley
Paramedics Sydney Furlong and Lea Ackerley at Regional Station in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley

Before she leaves, she reflects on her journey so far, having moved to Nova Scotia from the Yukon six years ago, thinking she was going to go into nursing.

Then paramedicine came calling.

“I wanted, for some reason, to be out in a more uncontrolled environment and really wanted to be the one to use my own hands and kind of figure out medicine that way,” she said.

She’s been a paramedic since October and hasn’t regretted her decision.

“I really enjoy it, it’s been great. It’s tough, I don’t have a full-time partner, but that also allows me to branch out and work with a lot of various people and helps me figure out the type of medic that I want to be,” she said. “Each person I work with I take a bit of what they do and who they are and I slowly shape it into my habits as well, which can help me hopefully become a great medic.”

Sydney Furlong and Lea Ackerley
Paramedics Sydney Furlong and Lea Ackerley at Regional Station in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley

It’s About the People

She knew going in that the healthcare in Nova Scotia is stretched, but that hasn’t dissuaded her from thinking about anything other than how she can benefit her patients and the system itself.

“Even on the days where that gets super hard and I am feeling burnt out and tired, the weight of me wanting to do this job takes over,” she said. “My want to be here takes over and be there for my patients.”

Her partner on this day is Lea Ackerley, who was a landscaper before becoming a paramedic seven months ago.

“I wanted to be around people and help people. I think medicine was the second part of it for me – I mean, I love it, it was definitely the people,” she said. “I think the calls that stick out to me the most are not really the bad calls or anything like that, but the ones that you really get to talk to somebody and learn about their life.”

Light Through the Cloud

Over at the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville, Kelsey Johnson and her partner are cleaning up a stretcher, having transferred their patient over the staff and getting ready to go back into service for their next call.

Johnson, originally from New Brunswick, spent four years working as a paramedic there before moving to Nova Scotia in 2019, continuing her career in the Valley.

“It’s similar enough at both levels, give or take a few things, but working in Nova Scotia is a little busier with the population difference. I worked in Perth-Andover in New Brunswick, so it was a little quieter there.”

She says her days are very busy, from responding to calls and spending portions of her shift at the hospital in offload.

The Reward

But despite those challenges, she is optimistic that changes implemented recently and those coming in the future will help alleviate those pressures and benefit both patients and paramedics.

It’s a job that she would recommend to anyone.

“It’s quite rewarding and fulfilling at the end of the day,” she said. “There are always the hardships that you’ll bring home, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives where you’ll feel like you’re helping people, you’re doing something for your community.”

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