Paramedics: Canada's Most Respected Profession
Monday, May 23rd, 2022 | ~3 minute read
By Justin Mausz
Just days before the kick off of Paramedic Services Week 2022, a new poll found paramedics topped the list of Canada's most respected occupations. Welcome news, no doubt, especially now, more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, but while paramedics may be among Canada's most respected occupations, the profession is also one of our nation's most troubled.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, paramedics have been found to have some of the highest rates of post-traumatic stress injuries among Public Safety Personnel (PSP) in Canada, leading to growing recognition of a mental health crisis within the profession. Research conducted by our team found that - as recently as February 2020 - fully 1 in 4 active-duty paramedics in Peel Region met the screening criteria for any one of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. We also found similarly high rates of burnout, overall, and secondary traumatic stress among Peel Region's paramedics, adding concerning evidence of a mental health crisis that - since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic - has almost certainly worsened.
It's not hard to imagine why paramedics would be at an increased risk for PTSD and other adverse mental health outcomes as a result of their work; afterall, they are on the front lines of a healthcare system strained by an aging population, an addictions crisis, widespread social inequality, and increasingly limited access to primary health care. But the pandemic has brought to light a dimension of the problem that has been going unnoticed in the background for years: violence against paramedics.
In a 2014 survey of paramedics in Ontario and Nova Scotia, Bigham and colleagues found that more than 75% had been subjected to violence within the past year, but fewer than 20% of incidents were ever formally documented or reported. Our own research in this area sheds light on why, with the organizational culture within the profession stigmatizing reporting as paramedics are encouraged to accept paramedics as just 'part of the job.' Fast forward to the 2020s and we are seeing an erosion of trust in health care as an institution, with protests outside hospitals, vitriol directed at healthcare workers, and rocks thrown at ambulances. This unfortunately means that our paramedics - a vital, but already at-risk part of Canada's public safety infrastructure - are being subjected to more and more serious violence during the course of their work. Following the launch of a new violence reporting process in Peel Region, we have seen that paramedics are reporting being exposed to violence every single day, with nearly 40% of incidents involving some form of physical or sexual assault.
Our team is working to change this. Spearheaded by Peel Regional Paramedic Services and the University of Windsor, we are collaborating with a growing list of industry and community partners and paramedic services from across Ontario to develop evidence-informed policy that:
Along the way, we need help from readers like you. Paramedics have an increasingly difficult job and they should never be subjected to verbal abuse, harassment, threats, physical, or sexual assault - they have to be safe to keep our communities safe. Please treat paramedics with respect, give them the space they need to do their job safely, and keep the conversation going. Increasing the awareness of the challenges paramedics face in their work is one of the most important things we can do to help solve this problem, because safety is everyone's responsibility.
If you see a paramedic during this year's Paramedic Services Week, say hi and thank them for doing an important, but sometimes difficult job.
The role of organizational culture in normalizing paramedic exposure to workplace violence
Friday, December 10th, 2021
Earlier this week, our paper on the Role of Organizational Culture in Normalizing Paramedic Exposure to Violence came out online in the Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research. We were asking an important question: why do incidents of violence against paramedics often go unreported?