In the late 1980s, while he was walking in Vancouver, Tom Ratcliffe saw an older man collapse near him, watching as he went into cardiac arrest.
Nursing instructors quickly responded, as did paramedics. However, the man did not survive.
Ratcliffe, who did not know cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the time, took training in the lifesaving skill soon after that experience. He then joined St. John Ambulance as a volunteer and later became a paramedic with the British Columbia Ambulance Service, a career he has held for the past 32 years.
On April 28, he is retiring from his present position as the unit chief of the Summerland branch, but he plans to continue working in a casual role as a paramedic.
“It’s been a privilege to be in people’s lives when they’re most vulnerable,” he said. “It’s hard to let go of such a great career.”
He added that his coworkers have been excellent problem solvers as well as compassionate and empathetic people.
Ratcliffe said his work as a paramedic has been unique and challenging, although a day on the job is nothing like the way a paramedic’s role is portrayed on television and in movies.
“I find most Hollywood portrayals to be super sensational,” he said. “It’s not the fast action that’s on TV.”
Instead, he said the role involves working with people when they are in need of help.
“It’s the small things that we do for someone that are going to make a lifetime of difference,” he said. In some cases, a patient or the family member of a patient will come to him many years later, remembering the care he provided.
Ratcliffe views each call as a way to respond to a person, not just a medical problem and treatment. He has described his role as one of customer service, providing the best treatment to someone in need. At times, they will accompany someone from their home from the last time as the patient is going to hospice or to the hospital.
During his time as a paramedic, Ratcliffe has seen changes as a result of advancements in medical care and treatment. When he started working as a paramedic, the role was primarily that of a first-aid practitioner. Now, it has become a profession in its own right as paramedics provide treatment before a patient arrives at the hospital.
In addition, there are community paramedics in some communities, working with home care nurses to help people stay in their homes as long as possible.
For those considering a career as a paramedic, Ratcliffe says a good attitude of caring is essential.
“You have to learn resilience, but you can’t forget compassion and empathy,” he said.
To report a typo, email: