News release

Paramedic Treats Patients Like Family

NOTE: The following is part of a series of profiles on paramedics in the province. For more information including photos and audio go to http://gov.ns.ca/health/ehs/paramedics/stories.asp .

Nova Scotians get some of the best emergency care around believes a long-time paramedic based in Cape Breton.

Billy Brown is a primary care paramedic who has been working in the province for 25 years. It was a love of working with the community that helped Billy decide to apply for an opening in 1985. Back then, it was a privately-owned ambulance and funeral home in New Waterford.

But a lot has changed over the years.

"As far as patient care goes, you won't get anything better right now," said Mr. Brown. "With the training that we have now, and we're always looking at improving ourselves, we can improve a patient's outcome when we show up at the house and get them to the hospital."

When he first started he needed to take a two week emergency medical attendant course. At that time, all he needed to know was basic CPR, how to get people out of motor vehicle accidents, how to check blood pressure and how to recognize signs of respiratory distress. Like most veteran paramedics, Mr. Brown said he was grandfathered into the modern-day paramedic standards in the 1990s when the province amalgamated 55 ambulance companies. Since then, he's taken courses on techniques for intravenous, intubation, basic life support and how to administer life saving drugs.

Advances in medical procedures and new drugs mean Nova Scotia's paramedics are always learning.

He said the recent change to allow paramedics to administer the clot-busting drug to patients experiencing a heart attack is one area where emergency care has really improved. In Cape Breton, paramedics can communicate directly with an emergency room physician and by using a checklist, determine if a patient is suffering a heart attack. When a patient has a heart attack, paramedics can administer the drug remotely on behalf of a physician connected by cellular phone.

"If you were taking a myocardial infarction (heart attack) before, you were on a stretcher getting oxygen. Now we can say this person needs the drug and we call the doctor. We've had great outcomes with it."

Paramedics take frequent professional development opportunities through their employer or through area hospitals. But it's more than just courses. Mr. Brown said training also comes from talking to ER doctors and nurses about what they observe in the patient. Conversations like this can pay off later because paramedics may better anticipate a patient's needs if they ever see that condition again.

He said his training pays off when he's able to make a big difference in someone's life. Whether it's the patient who thanked him for convincing her to go to the hospital only to later discover she was suffering a stroke or it's telling a young mother to expect a new family member after an unexpected birth, this paramedic said interacting with people keeps him coming back to the job every day.

"When I started 25 years ago, all we had was a stretcher, oxygen, your basic airways and CPR. The training we get today is unbelievable.

"If we would have had it back then, some patient outcomes would have been great because we would have been able to treat them right in their house. As years go by, we are continually improving what we are doing."

Looking forward, Billy has family that will continue his legacy in health care. He has a daughter in nursing. He shared with her some of the advice he got when he started as a paramedic 25 years ago.

"My boss told me to treat people like your own family members. You'll get along just fine."

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Media Contact:

John Muir
Department of Health 902-424-2583 E-mail: