Paramedic Barry Nicholls on how his job has changed over time

When you’ve been working in a job for almost 40 years, you’re bound to see some changes. And that’s exactly what Daylesford’s Barry Nicholls has seen while working as a paramedic for almost four decades. 

ON THE JOB: Team manager Barry Nicholls said he has seen many changes in his time working as a paramedic. Photo: Kate Healy

ON THE JOB: Team manager Barry Nicholls said he has seen many changes in his time working as a paramedic. Photo: Kate Healy

THE JOB

Mr Nicholls worked as a paramedic in Brisbane, Benalla and Wangaratta before he settled on working at the Daylesford branch, where he has now been working for 25 years. 

Mr Nicholls said what initially drew him towards being a paramedic was the satisfaction his mother got from working in her job as a registered nurse.

“I thought, well, if I can get that too, then I’ll be fine. And I’m still enjoying my job to this day.”

Mr Nicholls said he also liked to think he had followed in the footsteps of his paternal grandfather, who was a stretcher bearer at Villers-Bretonneux in World War One.

He said what he enjoyed most about working in a rural location as opposed to in a metro scenario was that a paramedic had longer to treat patients.

“Rural locations are interesting because you have to care for your patients longer. Your treating regime is significantly longer due to travel times - in metro, hospitals are usually just around the corner.”

“Ambulance work is on a payback principle. We transport a lot of people to hospitals for check-ups to make sure they’re fine.”

HELPING HAND: Barry Nicholls has worked as a paramedic in both metro and regional areas of Australia for almost 40 years. Photo: Kate Healy

HELPING HAND: Barry Nicholls has worked as a paramedic in both metro and regional areas of Australia for almost 40 years. Photo: Kate Healy

THE BRANCH

The Daylesford branch has 13 volunteers that work as community officers, driving the branch’s five paramedics around to jobs all across the Hepburn Shire. 

“The five paramedics that work here, including myself, have 140 years of experience on the job. This is significant, especially for a smaller location,” he said.

“All team managers are trained as health commanders who look after major incidents pre-hospital. It basically allows doctors to take over as soon as a patient gets to hospital.

“There are no formal location boundaries anymore. If an incident occurs, the three closest trucks are immediately called to that job.”

He said there had been significant changes in a paramedic’s workload over recent years.

“We don’t go to minor jobs anymore. Non-emergency ambulances attend a lot of the transport jobs, freeing up the government based ambulances for emergency work. We (at the Daylesford branch) go to between 60 and 70 emergency jobs each month,” he said.

Interestingly, Mr Nicholls said he had not noticed a spike in any kind of job and that the branch looked after “an even load of jobs relating to medical and trauma jobs”.

“We have our share of big, major accidents. The last time I counted, it was about 26 motor accidents a year, with two of those major accidents where deaths occurred,” he said.

Mr Nicholls said he was also involved in a paramedic’s peer support program, in which members engaged in conversation and are referred on to psychologists if they have been significantly impacted by what they have seen at work.

“The statistics of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are low but they are very impacting on those that it does touch. We often say that you’re only one job away from attending a scene that will trigger something in you.”

When I first started, we were basically first-aiders but now we are qualified professionals. This has taken the best part of 40 years, but it is an achievement. It’s as good as it gets.

Barry Nicholls

THE CHANGES

He said he had experienced many changes in his job description throughout his time, from paramedics becoming a registered body, to technological changes like the computerisation of incoming jobs and what paramedics carry in their kits.

“When I first started, we were basically first-aiders but now we are qualified professionals. This has taken the best part of 40 years, but it is an achievement. It’s as good as it gets.”

“Most paramedics, as we are now known, were once known as ambulance officers across the nation. The term really only sunk in, in Victoria, around 2000. Prior to that, the word paramedic was once reserved for MICA paramedics They still reserve that name, while the rest of us a care now called ALS paramedics.”

Mr Nicholls said about 70 per cent of people studying paramedicine were now women, a stark change from when he first started in the job.

“That is a notable fact. It was a 100 per cent male occupation when I started and now it is about 55 per cent female. I would expect that number to rise to about 75 per cent female and about 25 per cent female in coming years. It’s slowly morphing across that line.”

There is both a good and a bad side to the job. Not so good is attending people you know, both young and old. But the great side is attending births. For the time I’ve been in town, I’ve enjoyed watching those babies grow up into adults and significant people

Barry Nicholls

THE ISSUES

Mr Nicholls said working in a small town meant knowing almost everybody.

“There is both a good and a bad side to the job. Not so good is attending people you know, both young and old. But the great side is attending births. For the time I’ve been in town, I’ve enjoyed watching those babies grow up into adults and significant people,” he said.

“We work closely with volunteers as well as CFA road rescue, the SES unit, the police and Hepburn Health Service,” he said. “Without volunteers, this town would just stop.”

He said one of the issues that had come to light of late was security on the job. “We have a heightened awareness of personal security which legislation backs up. If it’s not safe for us to attend a scene, we don’t go in without police. We stay safe, we are supported to be safe and we work closely with police in ensuring that,” he said.