Guidelines for paramedics actually encourage knowledge of English

By Robert Frank

An unctuous Jean-François Lisée is trying to reassure English Quebecers who fear that they might be forced to speak French in a potential life and death medical emergency.

“The position is clear,” the Parti québécois cabinet minister told CJAD morning host Andrew Carter, Oct. 26. “Anglo Quebecers have an absolute right to medical services in English.”

Lisée specifically addressed accusations that a Montérégie ambulance attendant yelled at the father of an unconscious two-year-old girl, Oct. 20, and insisted that the father describe the symptoms leading up to the seizure in French.

“I listened to the stories from the parents and it’s dismaying,” the Parti québécois cabinet minister recounted, “so everyone has to get the message—from the minister down to the paramedic—that this is not acceptable.”

Meanwhile, the young girl’s parents are recoiling after experiencing a week of intense cyberbullying. In addition to new-media trolls, they also had to cope with old-media reporting that was unacquainted with how profoundly Quebec’s ambulance services have changed since the start of the 21st century.

Research by The Suburban shows that ambulance attendants are no longer mere stretcher-bearers and drivers. Rather, many are trained as paramedics and, after 2014, all will be required to complete a college diploma at a Quebec CEGEP to enter the occupation.

Ambulance-specific English required

In addition to intensive paramedical training, the curriculum includes courses in socio-ethnic and cultural community considerations in ambulance work, as well as college-level courses in ambulance-specific English.

According to the CEGEP Abitibi-Témiscamingue student guide for the ambulance program, “English opens one to another culture and to demonstrate autonomy of thought and action. Called to communicate in a world where the knowledge of English is of great importance, the student must acquire college-level communication capacity pertinent to the workplace or to higher education.”

Indeed, The Suburban has obtained a Quebec Ministry of Education syllabus, which specifies that one of the CEGEP program’s four specific education objectives for ambulance technicians is “to respect the importance of using the English language in the exercise of their profession.”

Sang-froid is de rigueur

Every reference that The Suburban examined in its research, from Quebec, elsewhere in Canada or abroad, listed the same personal qualities for people who aspire to ambulance work. Among them, is “the ability to remain calm and professional in the most stressful of situations” and “a strong ability to communicate.”

Most people are unaware that paramedics are responsible for reassuring not just the patient but distressed loved ones as well.

“A workplace where there is nothing but systematically gratifying interactions with calm and docile users belongs to a professional fantasy,” recounts a down-to-earth Quebec emergency health care training manual.

“Building a richer human relationship by using communication techniques designed to effectively manage anxious and frequently irascible patients and their companions is synonymous with a better outcome for everyone involved,” it concluded.

Ambulance workers need to establish these lines of communication to learn what were the signs and symptoms and events which led up to the incident that they have been called to. If the individual is unconscious or, like a child, unable to communicate this potentially life-saving information, they have to be able to get it from others.

The initiative to upgrade ambulance skills to CEGEP levels started with the now-defunct Rassemblement des techniciens ambulanciers du Québec union, who lobbied for better training so paramedics can give better care.

Until the beginning of the 1990s, ambulances didn’t even have defibrillators, and workers had to conduct their own fundraising initiatives to get the equipment, which today is ubiquitous.

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