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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Life and death take on new dimensions for paramedics

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

When she was just three years old, someone asked Siobhan Carlin what she wanted to be when she grew up. Siobhan remembers her reply. "I said I wanted to be a baby doctor," she laughs. She hung onto that dream all the way through school. Her only dilemma was whether she wanted to become a doctor or a nurse. Then fate intervened.
"I find that you don't take life for granted," says Siobhan Carlin of her job as a Toronto paramedic.

Siobhan was just 16 when her father had a heart attack at home. "I remember holding his head in my lap," she explains. "I didn't realize he was already dead. It was an awful feeling not knowing what to do. After that, I decided I wanted to work in an ambulance. If I could save somebody else's dad, maybe it could balance out the scales."

"Of course I've saved lives doing my job," Carlin explains. "But part of my job is just being there for people and calming them down. Or comforting people who've lost loved ones. I find that part of my work very rewarding."

In Toronto, about 800 paramedics respond to almost half a million emergency calls each year. Their days are long: Officially, they work 12-hour shifts, but if there's an emergency call near the end of their workday, they will have to work overtime.

Paramedics work intensively for up to five days in a row. But then, they get plenty of time off to relax. Their breaks alternate between three, five or seven days off.

Kara-Lynne Ashton, an education supervisor for Toronto Emergency Medical Services, says paramedics need to be leaders and good decision-makers. They also have to be fit enough to carry a 170-lb. patient on a 90-lb. stretcher up and down stairs. People skills are also important.
Working As A Paramedic
Salary: From $24.76 to $29.99 an hour
Training: You must complete a 2-year college program in paramedicine
Prerequisites: To be accepted into a paramedic course, you need a Grade 12 Ontario Secondary School Diploma (including Grade 12 English, Grade 11 or 12 biology and Grade 12 chemistry or physics); driver's licence; proof of current CPR certification and standard first aid certificate.
Personal qualities: Leadership, decision-making, people skills, physical fitness and strength. A team-worker who thrives under pressure.
More information:

Ashton joined the Toronto EMS more than 20 years ago -- and she's never looked back.

"When I started, there were not a lot of women becoming paramedics. Now, almost 40% of our new recruits are women. I'd say it's a great career.

I've seen a lot of things, met really good people. I've got a lot of education within the service. It opens up the world to you -- it's an exciting career."

Carlin agrees. "Doing my job, I find that you don't take life for granted. Children lose their parents, or a child can go to sleep one night and not wake up in the morning. Life is precious. When I see those things at work, I realize it's a wakeup call. I'm so lucky to wake up in the morning and not to have any pain. My job makes me cognizant of the little things in life, and I'm so grateful for it."

(Susan Poizner ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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