Staff Profile: Brandan Willis - Critical Care Paramedic
August 29, 2023
29 August, 2023
Brandan Willis is one of our most recent paramedics to be critical care certified. He answered questions about the thorough and worthwhile process of obtaining his license and his daily activities as a critical care paramedic for Ornge.
Justyn: When did you start working for Ornge?
Brandan: I got my job offer at Ornge in April 2019, so I’ve been working full-time here for just over four years.
Can you describe your academic and professional background before you started at Ornge?
I started my two-year Primary Care Paramedic training directly out of high school at Lambton College. While at school, I was able to build a solid educational foundation.
During the summer break between my first and second year of training, I travelled to Texas to complete the internationally recognized firefighter and hazmat program and worked as a volunteer firefighter.
Post-graduation from primary care paramedic school, I was hired by two local paramedic services. After working as a primary care paramedic for almost two years, I attended Niagara College to complete my Advanced Care Paramedic training. This training was with 15 highly skilled and trained primary care paramedics from various paramedic services all across Ontario. During the program, we built and grew our existing foundation, while expanding our knowledge and procedural skills. Upon graduation, I continued to work as a land paramedic, and once when I was hired on with Ornge, I continued to work as a land paramedic for a couple of years.
What is your current role with Ornge?
I am currently a Critical Care Paramedic with Ornge, working in Southern Ontario.
I understand your position comes with a lot of unpredictable days, but what does a typical day look like for you at work?
Every day brings its own unique challenges and uncertainty, which is why the team starts every shift by verifying that all of our equipment is clean, stocked and in good working order. This is one of many precautionary steps we take to ensure that we are providing the highest quality of care when we respond to a call.
Every critical care asset at Ornge is staffed with two paramedics, as well as two pilots when working on the helicopter. After the morning equipment checks are complete, the crew will meet up at the base and have discussions about the shift. These topics usually include the weather for the day, any upcoming maintenance on the asset, the certification of the paramedic crew (Critical Care Paramedics or Advanced Care Paramedics), any new clinical updates, and any operational issues.
When waiting for an emergency or critical call to come in, I have continuous education to complete. Some of this learning is done online through our internal educational portal, and some of it is done at the base with a clinical practice lead. Every base at Ornge has high-fidelity manikins and educational equipment. I am continuously working on improving my craft so I can be confident that my patients are receiving the best possible care when they are in my hands.
When the Operations Control Centre (OCC) receives an emergency call from a local hospital or a Central Ambulance Communications Centre (CACC), the OCC will call us on a “hotline” that rings. This unique ring at the base and lets us know that there is an emergency we need to respond to. We receive information about the call we are going to via email on our work phones. We will receive a brief summary about the patient we are about to provide care for, or about the accident scene we are responding to. Based on this information, my partner and I will discuss our game plan going into the call. In these conversations, we discuss possible differential diagnoses, diagnostic tests we would like to see or do, and different treatment options available for the patient based on our findings. Coming up with a plan allows us to be mentally and physically prepared for whatever we are walking into.
Upon arriving at the patient, both my partner and I will do a brief assessment of the patient to ensure there are no immediate threats to life that need interventions. We then split off into two different roles – the team leader (or quarterback of the call) and the paramedic providing hands-on patient care. The role of the team leader is to get a full, in-depth history from the sending paramedic crew or sending hospital, review all lab tests and diagnostic imaging, and come up with the best possible treatment plan based on the information they receive. While the team leader is busy collecting this information, their partner is preparing the patient for transport. This includes mixing medications and attaching the patient to necessary equipment (cardiac monitor, ventilator, etc.). When on a call, it is imperative that we always maintain good communication with our partner, and that we have a good understanding of both roles, as we could be assigned to either role with each new call.
Once we complete the call, the paramedic who was the team leader is responsible for completing all of the required paperwork. This documentation is a detailed report that describes all of the care that was provided to the patient and is sent to the receiving hospital. The second paramedic also has tasks post-call such as preparing the equipment so it is ready for the next call. This includes cleaning the equipment (monitor, infusion pumps, ventilator, stretcher and aircraft or ambulance), and restocking any equipment that was used on the previous call.
At the end of the day, we ensure that all our paperwork is complete and that the asset we were on is fully cleaned and restocked for the next crew to use. We are scheduled to work 12-hour shifts, but it sometimes ends up being over 14-16 hours if we are moving a critically ill patient.
What does being a critical care paramedic mean to you? What made you want to pursue this profession?
I am incredibly proud to be a critical care paramedic because this role shows the true potential of the paramedic profession. As a critical care paramedic, I am able to bring the highest level of medical care directly to my patients no matter where they are located. It is not an easy path to become a critical care paramedic; however, the education and training I have completed allows me to be the best advocate for the profession and my patients.
I became a paramedic because I wanted a career that would be unpredictable and challenging every day, and I enjoy working in a team environment that can push me to be better. I decided to become a critical care paramedic to gain the additional education and training that would enable me to provide better care to every patient I encounter. Growing up in rural southwestern Ontario, I understand the limitations and strain that a critically ill patient can put on the healthcare system in a small community hospital. Being able to relieve some of that stress on the system is a rewarding part of my job. I truly believe being a paramedic is one of the most rewarding careers out there.
Can you describe the process of obtaining your critical care license?
To be admitted into the Critical Care program, you have to be a certified and working advanced care paramedic. The Critical Care Program is five semesters long and takes about 24 months to complete. After every semester, you are tested on your theoretical and practical knowledge before you are eligible to move on. During semesters four and five, you start your residency program, which is when you work as a critical care paramedic under the supervision of a senior critical care paramedic mentor. This portion of the training is where you apply your academic knowledge to the clinical setting. After completing and passing all of the written, oral, and practical exams of the program, you must pass a final certification exam, which consists of multiple critical care simulation stations that you must interact with. During these stations, you must demonstrate and apply the knowledge you have learned throughout the program in front of several Ornge physicians. If you pass this final exam, you become a certified critical care paramedic! You are responsible for obtaining continuous education to maintain your certification thereafter.
Was there anything that Ornge did to make the process easier for you?
The Ornge paramedics that I work with on the frontline are fantastic and definitely make this program more enjoyable. Working as a team and pushing each other to be better, while still having fun, is definitely the key to successfully completing the program. Working full-time on the frontline while completing this full-time program comes with its own challenges, but being surrounded by a good group of like-minded professionals made it much more worthwhile.
What do you look forward to as your career progresses with Ornge?
I am looking forward to continuous, life-long learning from my peers, which will ultimately make me a better clinician. Since I am just starting out in my critical care paramedic career, I have so much more to learn from the exceptional paramedics I work with. I truly think that the individuals working directly with the patients on the frontline have the most meaningful impact on the system. I am really looking forward to being an active advocate for the paramedic profession and watching it grow.
What advice would you give to aspiring critical care paramedics?
This is a very humbling job. Whatever you think you know now, there are ten other things you don’t know. Dedicate yourself to self-improvement and lifelong learning; not just for yourself, but so that you can better advocate for your patients. If I can become a critical care paramedic, anyone can – it will just take a little effort and a lot of heart.
At Ornge, our staff work every day around the clock to ensure the patients of Ontario receive the best care available. Learn more about the people behind #teamornge.