Paramedic Class of 2002 reflect on more than two decades of service and friendship

Press Release

It might come as a surprise, but it’s true: 2002 was more than 20 years ago.

In the time since then, Pluto lost its status as a planet, the iPhone was introduced, social media changed how we communicate, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

It’s been a tumultuous 22 years.

That’s a long time for anyone to stay at one workplace, but for 11 members of the paramedic induction class of 2002, St John WA has been their professional home since, well, the very first Spider-Man movie came out.

What brought them all together for careers in paramedicine, and how have the past two decades unfolded for them?

Induction class of 2002

Some, like Murray Ferguson, said that joining SJWA meant answering a lifelong call.

“From the age of 16, I knew I wanted to become a paramedic,” he said.

“I really enjoyed the diversity of the role and the different challenges that came up.”

Others from the 2002 class found paramedicine while pursuing adjacent medical careers.

Melissa Gardiner was working on her nursing degree but was inspired to join the class when she saw one of her preceptors at university after the woman finished a night shift on the ambulance.

“She looked so tired, like death,” Melissa recalled.

“I thought, that’s what I’m meant to be doing.”

Fellow 2002 graduate Kerry Langsford had been in a completely different field when the opportunity to pursue paramedicine came up.

“I was working in the casino industry and finding myself increasingly dissatisfied and seeking a sea change,” she said. 

“I started browsing job vacancies on the same weekend that [SJWA] advertised for a second intake of trainee ambulance officers.  

That was unusual for the day as there was usually just a single yearly intake.” 

Classmate Mark Hill made the move from the Royal Australian Navy after feeling the pull to paramedicine.

“It felt like it would be a good career to move into as part of the emergency services,” he said of his decision to leave ships behind for ambulances.

Bridget Eckersley, meanwhile, was nearly finished with a degree in nursing when a friend showed her an advertisement for a student ambulance officer role that would lead her to the 2002 induction class.

Already leaning toward emergency medicine, she jumped in, and as she put it, “the rest is history.”

Of course, history changes, and the experience of being a paramedic with SJWA could not stay the same for 20 years.

Many of the processes and equipment have evolved, making the job better for paramedics and the outcomes better for patients.

Melissa said that one of the best changes since she started has been how the crews treat chest pain.

“We can have a patient on the table [in a catheterisation lab] in less than an hour,” she said.

Mark echoed that sentiment.

“The clinical care of patients and what our clinicians at different levels are able to do for patients is amazing,” he said.

Margie Gray, another 2002 classmate, was more specific in her praise for the evolved tools.

She said that the electric stretchers have been the best implementation of new equipment because they make patient handling easier and safer, a sentiment that was shared by others.

Simon Hughes painted a broader picture, saying that he thinks the biggest change over the years has been the organisation itself.

“While there have been improvements in skills and medications,” he said, “it’s more the professionalisation of St John WA from a smallish ambulance service to the wide-reaching community organisation that we are now.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the camaraderie of the team members, even after 22 years.

Kerry said that she couldn’t imagine a better bunch of people to work with.

Melissa agreed, saying that her “family in green” was her whole world, right behind her husband and kids, of course.

Two decades on, she’s still close to many of the people she got started with.

“Mark Hill is my best mate,” she said.

“I am godmother to his boys, he read at my wedding and is godfather to my kids.

His wife is like a sister to me. I’m friends with lots of our class.”

Mark added, “Even with a long absence between catch ups, it feels like nothing has changed from our first few years together in the organisation.”

Margie took her commitment to the 2002 class further still, marrying a classmate.

Her husband is no longer with SJWA, but Margie still enjoys her time with her green family, saying that her favourite thing has been “the friendships that have formed and the interesting stories we all share together.”

Murray also enjoys catching up with the class when he can.

“Hopefully we can have a gathering for our 25-year [service award] medal presentations,” he said.

Simon said that there is always a bond that will exist with a group, adding that he keeps a copy of the induction class photo on his desk.

“It’s a reminder of where I came from,” he said. 

Now that 22 years have passed since the class of 2002 embarked on their St John WA journey, where do they see themselves a couple of decades from now?

“I am hoping to be retired,” Margie said.

Kerry agreed, saying, “Hopefully I’ll be spending the kids’ inheritance in my retirement.”

Murray said that he hoped to be alive and long retired by then, enjoying time with his family and travelling.

But not everyone is ready to leave the ramp behind.

“I love my job,” Melissa said. “I’m just getting started.”

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