How does one become a researcher? Or, more importantly, a paramedic researcher? How many paramedics consider themselves a reasercher? Do paramedics contribute to their own unique body of knowledge to enhance patient care and safety, in the specific work environments of pre-hospital, out-of-hospital care and transport medicine? Do paramedics as practitioners translate knowledge to their practice as a result of paramedic led research?
These are all questions that drive the board of directors of the British Columbia Paramedic Association. But, before we look at these questions, let’s first consider why a paramedic association?
There are varied types of representation or regulatory bodies for paramedics in Canada and BC. There are labour unions, licensing boards, employers, and in some provinces self-regulatory bodies know as professional colleges, or a College of Paramedics.
A professional association is meant to be an independent entity, in our case, a corporate (not-for-profit) society under Societies BC. An association’s focus, should be on representing the profession of paramedicine. We do not represent paramedics to an employer for the purposes of wages or working condition, and we should not have conflicts of interest or bias for any one employer. Those interests belong to other representatives. An association should be focused on outcomes that protect and enhance the care to those we serve.
The purpose of an association is to ensure optimal patient care and safety to the patients we serve in our unique work environment, with our unique scope of medical practice, through development of the profession and paramedic professionals, regardless of their employer.
In British Columbia Paramedics carry out many different roles and although the largest employer is BCEHS, there are paramedics that work for the Canadian Military, Search and Rescue Agencies, Ski Patrol, Private Emergency Providers, Hospitals, Corrections Services and Public Health Agencies. Our interest is in how paramedics as a profession can best serve patients through development of our unique body of knowledge, in the environment with which we work, and methods that we use to deliver care to those in need.
The British Columbia Paramedic Association as an initial act by the board has adopted the pillars of professionalism for our association. These are: Professional Leadership, Clinical Practice Excellence, Higher Education, and Paramedic Research. All of these are key elements to professional accountability and ultimately professions with self-regulation. We will explore the associations values and goals in these areas in future articles.
So, let us explore the research agenda a little bit more.
How does one become a researcher or paramedic researcher? There are several types of researchers. The main thing that researchers have in common is development through university academic programs. Some researchers are post-graduate students, some are practicing clinicians, some are professors or academic researchers and some are employed specifically in health care institutions or businesses in research roles. There are very few, if any, actual paid employment roles for paramedic researchers, nor is there a faculty of paramedicine in Canada that staffs academic paramedic researchers. There are some paramedic researchers in academic roles, there are some as post graduate students, there is one in an employment position, and there are many that are practicing clinicians unofficially in ad-hoc research roles participating in various projects. We strive to enhance the research opportunities in paramedicine to better enhance the practice, safety, education and knowledge of the profession and therefore care and safety of patients in our unique environment.
While we have successfully delivered paramedic service to the public for several decades in Canada with an exemplary world-wide reputation, It has typically been as a public safety service or a sub-specialty or extension of emergency medicine, but not as a fully matured health care discipline. This model has served our patients well, but, some of what we have learned is that because things are done certain ways in a hospital, does not necessarily mean that it works the same or has the same benefits or risks in the paramedic environment. Another aspect that we have learned is that the public safety model does not take full advantage of health care system integration in the best interest of the patients journey to optimal care. As well, we have learned that in health care, inter-disciplinary teams of varied practitioner skill-sets and experiences, contribute greatly to patient care, safety and overall system performance.
Which brings us to the role of the British Columbia Paramedic Association in the pursuit of paramedic research. First, we are advocates for the patient and developing paramedic research to enhance care and safety for patients in our unique work environment. Second, paramedics who know this work and provide this care, are best to be engaged to look at the clinical and operational factors that contribute to enhanced patient care delivery in our unique clinical environment. Third, We can provide an independent and focused environment to support paramedic researchers and their development. As an independent corporate entity, without labour interests, we can apply for grants, subsidies, enter into agreements and partnerships to participate; fund; and support paramedics as researchers and their projects. Our focus is on the profession, for the patients.
In development of our research agenda we will enhance the educational opportunities for paramedicine as an academic faculty with opportunities for post-graduate research and university education. Work with any number of employers or agencies with varied paramedic work environments, and develop expertise in knowledge translation for the unique care and environment that paramedics work within.
BCPA already has paramedic researchers as inaugural board directors and members who sit with various research groups such as The McNally Project and the Canadian EMS Research Network. Our leaders have, or are pursuing higher levels of university education and conducting post-graduate research. Our goal is to bring this paramedic led education and research to British Columbia. The unfortunate aspect of those leading the way is that many are contributing to the body of knowledge abroad, taking their courses and conducting research in countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia that have already established university faculties in Paramedicine. In order to best benefit the patients of British Columbia, we need to bring this talent home to research and develop paramedicine in BC within our BC system.
The gold standard of clinical and academic research in most fields is having a peer reviewed journal to submit your research for evaluation and publication. An extended goal of the BCPA research agenda is to work with other associations and professional college’s throughout Canada to establish a Canadian Journal of Paramedicine and share our expertise by participating on the editorial board evaluating the most current paramedic research that ends up being produced in Canada.
Finally, with a desire to be a leader in paramedic research, it is our goal to showcase British Columbia Paramedic research, Canadian Paramedic research and provide learning opportunities for the paramedics of BC through an annual research symposium and Paramedic Gathering (Conference).
Currently, all of these things are a spectacular ambition with some dedicated front line paramedic clinician leaders. However, with the extremely motivated and passionate team that has come together, we have the right mix of people to move these goals forward. We look forward to engaging with paramedics throughout BC to participate with the association, especially in areas of interest around our four pillars; Professional Leadership, Clinical Practice, Higher Education, Paramedic Research.