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Double degree, double doors

By Josh Jennings

A combined qualification offers two viewpoints of medical care, writes Josh Jennings.

When Carly Bearder talks about her career options, it's not for lack of them. Bearder has two careers - one as a nurse and the other as a paramedic.

"I did struggle to make the decision of which one to choose, hence why I'm still doing both," she says.

"I just find you get different experiences in both and you have a different support network. It opens up a lot more doors and pathways into the future."

Bearder is a part-time nurse in Northern Health's emergency department and a full-time paramedic with Ambulance Victoria. Both roles have their distinct guidelines, but Bearder says there is some overlap in the tasks she performs for each.

On any given week, Bearder says she's likely to assess how critical patients are, take medical tests, initiate treatments and reassure patients and their families.

"I think you get a broader perspective about the healthcare system ... If you're just working as a nurse in a hospital, you don't really get to see your patients in the community and in their own houses, and if you're a paramedic you don't get to see what happens when they're in the hospital.

"On the road, you get to see people in their own environment and in their community, and they can act quite different from how they do in a hospital environment, which is more controlled and more sterile, with a lot more people around."

Bearder completed a nursing/paramedic double degree at Monash University in 2010. In 2012, she completed Northern Health and Ambulance Victoria's Inter-Professional Graduate Program. A first of its kind in Australia, the program enables graduates who have double degrees in nursing and paramedics to work in both fields for up to 18 months.

Historically, nursing/paramedic students had to choose either discipline on graduation, and this was considered a disincentive for completing the double degree.

Bearder says she's attracted to the emergency environment for various reasons. She likes the idea of not knowing what to expect at work; she likes the bonds she forms with colleagues in the emergency environment; and she likes getting to see firsthand the difference she makes in patients' lives.

"You can walk into a job and be greeted by a horrified-looking family with no idea what's going on, and then you do your thing and see their facial expressions change from horrified to calm to smiling, even. Or you get a hug at the end of the job."

Bearder intends to consolidate her knowledge in the next year, then hopes to work in remote underprivileged communities.

"You can travel with the skills you have [from the double degree]," she says. "Some countries accept your nursing profession more than your paramedic profession, but others want your first-aid emergency skills."

Published: 27 October 2012

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