Originally Published January 31, 2019, Updated October 25, 2019

A little while ago, a program on CTV explored the issue of the difference between primary care and advanced-care paramedics. Primary-care paramedics can offer the most basic level of care, while advanced-care paramedics have far more tools at their disposal to help you in your time of need. The program discussed that primary-care paramedics often have their hands tied when it comes to what type of treatment they are able to offer.

Sometimes, the difference between a primary-care and an advanced-care paramedic responding to your 911 call can be the difference between life or death. Until this past Christmas night, I never really paid much attention to the issue. I started to experience severe abdominal pain. Since I was unable to take myself to the hospital, an ambulance was called, and primary-care paramedics showed up. As they were primary-care paramedics, the only pain medication they could offer was morphine, which I happen to be allergic to.

By the time I reached the hospital, I was screaming in pain. If they had been able to get my pain under control in the ambulance, it potentially would not have taken so long to get my pain under control. This ultimately delayed the doctor’s ability to investigate the source of my abdominal pain. I grant you—my experience just dealt with an issue of discomfort and pain management. But, in other more serious instances, it can be the difference between administering a life-saving medication or not.

When you call for an ambulance, you’re stuck in this 50/50 draw-type situation, as each call is not screened for the severity of the situation and who would be best equipped to provide care at that moment. Quite honestly, it comes down to which ambulance is closest.

Paramedics, unlike other healthcare providers, are not regulated by a professional body, as is the case for doctors. Instead, doctors select base hospitals across the province and extend their licenses to paramedics. This has become a lucrative practice for doctors.

There have been many calls for a college of paramedics to be created. However, there has been push-back from doctors against the creation of such a college. When it is an issue of patient care and literally life or death, we must review how paramedics are trained and regulated across the province. It is unacceptable that patient care is put at risk in the current system. Even more alarming is the fact that the general public doesn’t know they are at the mercy of their luck when they call 911 in a time of emergency.

By writing this letter, I am not on a mission to deter people from using emergency services. I am simply trying to open people’s eyes to the reality of the situation and start a public conversation. Who knows—if an advanced-care paramedic was on the scene that night and able to give me other pain medications, maybe my pain would have been better controlled by the time we reached the emergency room doors. In turn, this would have allowed the doctors to more quickly and efficiently diagnose the problem, which in my case meant emergency surgery.

We as the public have the right to ask questions and to expect that when we call 911, we  will get the best medical care possible. You might be saying, “How does this affect university students? This will never happen to me.” The one thing I’ve learned in my life is that you just never know what will happen to you and when. Young people often believe we are invincable. However, as much as we might like to believe that, it is simply not true.

I believe it is never too late to hold our elected officials to account—especially when it comes to issues as significant as this. The province needs to do better and that starts with people like us speaking up. You are never too young to demand a better future.