As pressure mounts amid the current underfunding crisis of the SA Ambulance Service, Brittany Rundle reveals the challenges and perks of diving into a full-time career as a paramedic at the young age of 21. (Image source: Brittany Rundle)

By Lara Pacillo | @LaraPacillo

It’s 10 minutes until midnight and the queues are only getting longer. Lines of people curl around the walls of nightclubs, and lines of ambulance trucks curl around the walls of hospitals. Last year, Brittany Rundle was most likely to be found in the former: this year, the latter.

Her Saturday night begins just like many others her age: preparing for a big night out. However, this is where the resemblances end. At 7pm, the sun crawls out of view, taking with it the day shift workers.

Brittany and her partner clock on to night shift with a coffee in hand; there’s no sleeping tonight. A buzzing pager on her belt alerts Brittany and her partner to the first life that needs saving.

The pair are yet to discover what the next 12 hours of darkness will bring. All they know for sure is that there will be lights and sirens shooting through the night as the stars spectate the triple zero calls to come. Nothing makes Brittany prouder than that she is the one to help.

(Image source: Brittany Rundle)

Brittany turned 21 on March 26 2021. Two days later, she entered the workforce as a paramedic. It’s a lifestyle shift that most 21-year-olds are unlikely to experience, but Brittany has never been one to shy away from the unknown. Always aiming high, she thrives in the face of a challenge.

Her determination to reach further flows through her body and even into her DNA. She stands tall before me, just over six feet, her long limbs worn from a big day on the job. Even after a 12-hour shift, she takes the time to chat. A little fatigue is not enough to back her down.

Her strong presence and grit to succeed is anything but intimidating. Modesty and an ability to always make those in her company feel comfortable follow her both inside and outside of work.

She sits down gently folding into herself, not wanting to disrupt even the air around her. Still suited up in her forest green uniform and sturdy boots that are just beginning to scuff after one month of wear, it becomes clear that Brittany was either made for the job, or the job was made for her.

The role combines her desire for the unconventional, her dream for a career in the medical field and her passion for conversation.

“My favourite part is honestly talking to patients. Sometimes they’re just so funny: the stories they tell and experiences they’ve had,” she says.

“Many old people have a lot of wisdom for me like who I need to marry and all that. It’s always fun.”

Brittany explains how there’s more to being a paramedic than a university degree.

“On our first day on the job — I don’t know if I’m allowed to semi-swear — we were told that if you’re not a dickhead, and if you’re nice to people, and if you’re open to learning, you’ll be fine.

“You’ve got to be relatively calm under pressure too, otherwise it would not be the job for you. You wouldn’t enjoy yourself. You also have to like being around people, talking to people and find it easy to meet people.”

Being a people person is what makes it easier to deal with the challenges of the job too, Brittany says.

“Talking to other paramedics about what they’ve been doing on the same day helps to stay grounded and unwind, especially if it’s been a bit of a bad job.”

While thriving socially definitely has its ups as a paramedic, it’s a big part of her personal life that has been compromised due to the rotating shift work. The strict four days on and four days off schedule means work often clashes with family and friends’ social plans.

Clicking “going” on Facebook events isn’t as easy as it used to be, and spontaneous catch-ups with friends are much less common.

“So far I’m absolutely loving it, but I think it will probably get a little bit more difficult as I’ll have to start missing more and more social events and things. I do know a lot of people in the same boat though, so it makes it a lot easier.”

The four days on is structured as consecutive two day shifts and two night shifts, each 12 hours. Paramedics are supposed to have two half-hour breaks per shift, but that’s never guaranteed.

“Today I got both breaks, but on my shift the other night we got neither.”

It’s just one of many consequences paramedics are forced to accept as the norm amid the current ambulance staffing crisis.

The Ambulance Employees Association (AEA) are in urgent need of more funding and staff to adequately serve the community. They describe that the severe understaffing and ramping has reached crisis point, and the SA community are at grave risk as a result.

Paramedics are desperate for change, pleading through a union rally which took place in April and sharing personal devastations. Pressure is peaking as paramedics deal with preventable risks and deaths as well as unsafe working conditions.

Entering the field at such an unstable time has been a strange experience for Brittany. She says most paramedics agree on one thing for sure: “something needs to happen”.

She says it’s scary knowing there are jobs in the community just waiting for an ambulance to come.

“No one wants to call an ambulance and have them not rock up on time. I was ramped on one of my night shifts recently and we had every single ambulance from the west of Adelaide ramped at the Queen Elizabeth and there were about five or six jobs waiting. It’s really bad.”

Brittany feels time very vividly in her job: its intensity seeps into each aspect. She says that time moves fast when a patient is very sick. Hours speed past like minutes. She says time moves slow when a patient is difficult and SAPOL needs to get involved. Seconds drag out.

Nothing compares however to the slug of the clock when ramped at a hospital. Time almost halts to a standstill.

“Especially when the patient is in pain, it’s horrible for everyone. You can give them more pain relief, but sometimes it doesn’t work, and they just need a doctor.”

At whatever speed is felt, time always moves forward. The queues eventually shorten, and the night shift comes to an end. Brittany is not swapping her new line of work for anything just yet. The thrill of the unpredictable quenches her thirst for the unconventional perfectly.

However, she knows nothing lasts forever.

“I am definitely excited about being a paramedic, but I don’t really know what’s after that,” she ponders watching the candle wick burn to its base beside her.

“I might do something else in the medical field. I might work overseas or interstate at some stage. Medicine is on the cards too. I’ll just see what opportunities come up ahead.”

Just like everyone circling the clock of life, Brittany doesn’t know what the future holds, and that’s exactly how she likes it.