Tracy Levesque is a leader of the Paramedic Women’s Community in Canada, a group of medics who are encouraging, empowering and mentoring women to become leaders in the field of paramedics. Tracey is a mother of three and a grandmother of one who has a career spanning over 25 years, having worked for a year in a helicopter and over ten years on the Paramedic Bike team. She currently sits on the diversity champion team and works with Max, the first paramedic service dog in Canada, in a programme she developed as a way to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder and paramedic suicide.
“…There is so much pain in this world and I see that first hand, but I also see the love people have for each other. I get to witness complete strangers helping others every day…”
I began my career back in 1991 in Ottawa, Ontario, the Capital city of Canada. A city with a population of around 750,000 at that time. We had less than 5% women in our service, it was very much a male dominated field. I definitely had to prove myself. My background in competitive hockey and my relationship with my brother, my Irish twin definitely prepared me for my environment. I felt like one of the family within my first six months.
I have worked a year in a helicopter, I spent over ten years on our Paramedic Bike Team that responds to emergencies in our downtown core during summer months. I currently work in a Paramedic Response Unit, with Max, the first paramedic service dog in Canada. I developed this programme as a way to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder and paramedic suicide.
I’ve spent my career in education, teaching emergency first-aid CPR and defibrillation. I am one of the leaders of the Paramedic Women’s Community, a group of medics who are encouraging, empowering and mentoring women to become leaders in our field. I also sit on our Diversity Champion team.
Last year I received a certificate in leadership through one of our community colleges. My career has been beyond fulfilling and inspiring. I have an amazing group of colleagues who inspire me to do better every day.
I originally went to university to study education and my career path took a drastic turn after discovering I was pregnant at twenty years old. I turned to community college and looked for something I could accomplish that was affordable and something that would interest me.
I took some science programmes at night school, and was accepted into the paramedic programme within the year. I thank my son to this day. My love for nature, people and caring for others has landed me the perfect career.
I respond to emergencies as the first paramedic to arrive. I am typically alone for the first few minutes, up to eight, of a medical emergency. My scope of practice is cardiac monitoring, so I use electrocardiograms to diagnose a heart attack, and defibrillation for a heart that has stopped. I am trained and equipped with cardiac, respiratory, diabetic, and pain control medications. I provide updates to the responding ambulance on patients’ current condition.
On a typical day I respond to an average of six calls in a ten-hour shift. I also have Max the paramedic therapy dog with me, and when required, we are called back to our headquarters for peer support when our paramedics are in need.
Supporting the community in the long term, not only in emergencies
The Paramedic Women’s Community was founded in 2014 and we are very much supported by the City of Ottawa. As it stands now we have less than 6% women in leadership positions across Canada, so the community mentors women and encourages them to want to be leaders in our industry.
Our community is also a way for women and men to get together outside of work, strengthen team morale and build community relationships, through events and fundraisers. Last year our fundraiser Women Build for Humanity raised over $18,000 and helped build a house for a family in need. We raise money for women’s cancers and we recently hosted an inspirational conference with talks from female trail blazers in our industry.
This month, Donna Karlin, a world-renowned shadow coach and TED talk coach, will come to us to do a two-hour presentation on leadership.
Dealing with the pressures of life as a paramedic
Personally, I have always lived a very healthy work / life balance. I have kept myself grounded by eating well, exercising and spending lots of time in nature. In the months following difficult calls, it is extremely important to pay attention to your behaviour and allow yourself to grieve. We see a lot of loss and although it is not ours – it is impossible not to be affected.
I have tried very hard over the years not to “tough it out”. Self-awareness and mindfulness is essential. Talking to our peer support team and employee assistance counsellors is something I have always done. A few years ago, I was starting to feel burnout so I hired an energy coach and that has been a great help as well. I also have trained and implemented Max, so I have a beautiful friend with me 24/7.
Making a difference
The most rewarding part of my role is knowing that we make a difference, that every day we help people. There is so much pain in this world and I see that first hand, but I also see the love people have for each other. I get to witness complete strangers helping others every day. I feel beyond blessed to live in Canada and to live in our capital city.
Challenging gender stereotypes in medicine
Currently, the Ottawa Paramedic Service has almost 40% women, which is incredible. We have many women as front-line supervisors and also many in clinical training positions. We have come along way, but we are breaking through the glass ceiling and would like to see more women in executive positions. That’s where the Paramedic Women’s Community comes in. Our executive also would like to see more women as well, so we are heading in the right direction.
My advice for girls and women that are interested in this career, is to always stay physically and mentally healthy. Be in touch with your feelings, stay engaged at work, and be part of your community. This career is definitely not easy, but I can’t imagine anything more rewarding. Stay positive! And always be open to talk to someone when you are struggling. Ask for help.
A reverse approach
We are very excited about our new reverse mentorship programme, which our community will implement after coaching from Donna Karin. The plan is to have our new staff of millennials teach our leadership staff about how they think, their values and expectations from work.