WHY I WANT TO SAVE LIVES FOR A LIVING
The Mediclinic Higher Learning Centre provides top-class Emergency Medical Services (EMS) training that puts much-needed paramedics on South Africa’s roads.
Jacques Lemley, an educator at the Mediclinic Higher Learning Centre, says the one-year Higher Certificate in Emergency Medical Care allows graduates to work as Emergency Care Assistants, while the two-year Diploma in Emergency Medical Care results in a role as an Advanced Life Support (ALS) practitioner. “The two-year diploma covers a range of theoretical modules, including anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, mental health and wellness,” he explains. “Primary healthcare and emergency medical care also form part of the course.”
The course is gruelling, and the industry even more so. Anyone choosing it needs to be prepared to work long, hard hours, often sacrificing holidays, weekends and family time. We speak to six second-year students who share their passion for EMS, their hopes, dreams and fears, and the reason they chose a career in saving lives:
Sandile Mbekwa (age 41)
EMS veteran Mbekwa started out as a Basic Life Support (BLS) practitioner in 2008, achieving his Intermediate Life Support (ILS) qualification in 2010. He says he was inspired to enter the industry from a young age, having grown up around a hospital. He chose to be a paramedic because it would allow him to make a difference to his community and support his family.
The father of three left behind his wife and children in Gauteng to pursue his ALS qualification in Cape Town, even though the profession could keep him away from them indefinitely. While he hopes to be posted closer to home, he could end up anywhere. But he’s firm about not uprooting his family. “As a father, I want to create a stable environment for my children, and that means not moving them around wherever I am placed,” he says. “Working in EMS is a way to alleviate pain in the community and my family.”
Monique Joubert (age 34)
As a volunteer in EMS since the age of 14, first with the NSRI and later in the ambulance service, Joubert was bitten by the bug early. She went on to earn her BLS and ILS qualifications before embarking on her ALS studies. Despite friends and family wrongly telling her she’d never make it in a “male-dominated” industry, she’s continued to thrive in her profession.
She also disagrees that the industry is male-dominated and says she’s motivated by helping people during the worst time in their lives. “I just want to be there to relieve their stress as much as possible.”
Shihaam Carlson (age 26)
This EMS practitioner once contemplated being a scientist. Instead, she qualified and worked as a pastry chef! But while making desserts, she retained a fascination with the medical field and eventually followed her heart into EMS. Her experience in the kitchen has prepared her well for the experience on the road, she says. “The parallels you can draw between EMS and the kitchen – the long hours, being organised, and the quick decisions you must make – have made it easier for me to transition.”
Besides saving lives, Carlson says her motivation for becoming a paramedic was to support people in their most vulnerable moments. “I also wanted to be there for my family if they should ever experience a medical emergency.”
Dakalo Tshiwawa (age 27)
Limpopo-born Tshiwawa had a traumatic experience as a youth when her brother suffered full-thickness burns from a cooking fire. But this shocking day also held some inspiration, as she witnessed the heroes from the ambulance working to save his life. “I took an interest in what they were doing and as time went by, I decided that I wanted to be a paramedic,” she says.
Tshiwawa initially earned a degree in biokinetics, but this didn’t satisfy her passion to help people. So, when the opportunity arose, she made the switch to EMS. Her experience in biokinetics served her well during her EMS studies, especially since both deal with anatomy. In addition to her passion for working in EMS, she says she wants to help her local community to appreciate paramedics, since ambulances are not a common sight in Limpopo.
JC Smit (age 23)
After working on his father’s farm for a couple of years, Smit decided to attend Stellenbosch University and study to become a maths teacher. “Then COVID-19 hit, and we had to do our course online, and I felt with all the sickness around me, I’d rather be out there helping people,” he says. Thanks to his experience on the farm, Smit adds that he can handle the gory nature of the profession and wants to be in the thick of the action. Plus, his mother is also a paramedic, so he’s had a good reference point for his career choice.
Despite having ADHD, something he says could make the profession challenging, his medication keeps him highly focused. For Smit, it feels natural to want to save lives. “Everyone has so much to give, and many people don’t have a chance to fulfil their potential because their lives get cut short. I want to be there to preserve these lives.”
“Many people don’t have a chance to fulfil their potential because their lives get cut short. I want to be there to preserve these lives.”JC Smit, ER24 Paramedic
Abigail Leisegang (age 21)
Leisegang, the youngest student in the 2023 ALS course, has wanted to be a paramedic since she was seven years old. As a teen in Grade 11, she went for a job shadow, working in the control room and on the road. She was excited to move into EMS as a career, but the year after she matriculated, the COVID-19 lockdown hit. Although this stalled her ambitions, in 2022 Leisegang grabbed her chance when she qualified to do the two-year ALS care diploma.
Being so young, she sometimes puts herself under pressure. “At times I have a bit of an ‘imposter syndrome’, because everyone else on the course is older and some have more experience,” she says. But once she completes her ALS, Leisegang knows she’ll be considered the senior on any ambulance, even when working with much more experienced, but less qualified paramedics. “But I’ll cross that bridge when I reach it,” she says, adding that she feels confident the course will set her up well for her role.