During the last 15 years, my research has explored different aspects of pre-hospital and emergency care settings, treatment and outcomes of pre-hospital cardiac arrest patients, emergency medical services (EMS), and the paramedic profession. More recently, I have concentrated my research efforts on studying the occupational factors that contribute to physical and psychological injuries among Canadian paramedics. In working with frontline paramedics, it is has been my long-held belief that successful research in the field of paramedicine is the result of work that is done with paramedics and for paramedics.
Each year paramedics provide time-sensitive, essential emergency medical care to millions of patients across the country. During the course of those calls, they routinely perform physically demanding tasks such as stretcher manipulation (e.g. loading/unloading the stretcher from the ambulance, raising/lowering the stretcher with a patient on it, etc.), transferring a patient from a surface (such as a slippery floor) to a stretcher, and providing direct patient care (e.g. CPR). The care that paramedics typically deliver occurs in pre-hospital care settings where they are subject to adverse weather conditions and situational constraints that further contribute to the physically demanding nature of their job.
The work that paramedics do places them at risk of seriously injuring themselves during the course of any given shift. We know from previous research that paramedics experience a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal work-related injuries than any other public safety personnel. Paramedics suffer non-fatal injuries at a rate that is more than five times higher than the (U.S.) national average for all workers.
One of my recent research collaborations has resulted in the development and implementation of Ontario’s first-ever, evidence-informed paramedic specific physical fitness test: the Ottawa Paramedic Physical Ability Test (OPPAT). The OPPAT was specifically designed to determine whether or not a paramedic is able to meet the highly physical demands of the job.
While I am very pleased with what we developed, I even more excited about how we developed the OPPAT. We used a participatory approach where we recruited five active-duty frontline paramedics from the Ottawa Paramedic Service to work side by side with our team as research assistants (RAs). They were actively involved with every aspect of the tests’ development including data collection, test design and circuit development, pilot testing in the lab, and information sharing with their colleagues. Perhaps the most important role that they played was as our "paramedic advisors." As academics, we understand the science and research behind health, injury, disease, movement, physical fitness and so on, but the application of that knowledge can be somewhat limited by the fact that we are not practicing paramedics. The RAs provided us with invaluable feedback, information and insights throughout the two-year process. Doing so ensured that what we were proposing has real-world applicability and relevance. The process of engaging the paramedics in this landmark study and test development helped to create a reliable and valid test.
The integration of frontline paramedics into and throughout the research process is paramount if we as researchers are to produce work that effects positive and impactful changes within the paramedic profession. The successful creation of the OPPAT through the engagement of the paramedic RAs is only one example of the positive outcomes to be had by working together. To that end, engaging paramedics in my research will always remain at the forefront of the work that I do.
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