MIDDLETON, N.S. - A paramedic who had to take a break from the pressures of his job in Nova Scotia is teaching paramedicine half a world away. And loving it.
“The big part for me has been growth in learning to look outside the box,” said Patrick Armstrong, a 17-year EMS veteran. “To look outside the window of the Valley and realize the world is bigger, and to get those perspectives from the East to West versus the constant bombardment of Western culture towards the East.”
He’s been teaching at the College of the North Atlantic in Doho, Qatar where he’s learning as much about himself as he is about other cultures - and that what you see in the movies and on TV might not have much to do with what the Middle East is really like. Prayers five times a day? Armstrong quickly got used to it and respects that religious tradition.
“It’s given me a lot more respect and perspective to that,” he said of his experiences so far in a very different culture. “Qatar is a small peninsula country that’s attached to Saudi Arabia by a very small land connection and sticks out into the Persian Gulf in the same vicinity of the UAE, Dubai, and Bahrain.”
Armstrong made a connection with the College of the North Atlantic, a school with multiple campuses across Newfoundland – and one in Qatar. He said when Qatar was evolving in their growth as a country they went around the world and found all the best schools and programs to bring into the country.
“My fiancé actually worked with the College of the North Atlantic in Newfoundland at one point, and maintained those connections,” he said. “We saw this job posting come up and at the time it was the right decision to take.”
Armstrong had almost two decades in the front lines of his profession and took all that knowledge and experience with him to the Persian Gulf.
“I’m currently teaching multiple classes within a three-year window – paramedics starting at entry level, primary care, and up through to advance care paramedicine,” he said. “We teach them to a Canadian-based Canadian Medical Association standard curriculum. And then we put them into the field and hopefully work to that level within their health-care system.”
“My background is 17 years in EMS, primarily based here in the Valley, the majority actually here in Middleton,” he said. “Where this all came about was for my personal health. I had a busy career up until stepping back, and we’ve had some significant changes in our EMS system. It’s strained. It’s overloaded. The paramedics right now in the field are getting burnt out, not only due to the ongoing workload, it’s the ongoing challenges from the company we work for that’s contracted by the province.”
He said all of those challenges are pressing the paramedic, especially in the Valley. And then one day he lost a colleague. That death was traumatic even to the people who deal with trauma every day.
“We’ve had the loss of one of our coworkers which was a huge impact to a lot of us,” Armstrong said. “So this challenge was as much for me a career growth. It was an opportunity to take the things that I’m very good at and translate it to students. It just happened to be that the challenge that I was able to gain was going to be a cultural growth, a personal growth to me being in a Middle Eastern country.”
“I left here the first of August at the height of our summer here,” said Armstrong. “When I landed and got off the plane it was in the vicinity of 50 degrees and 80 per cent humidity. Your clothes seemed to soak from the outside in before you could sweat.”
The weather did moderate and by the time he flew home for Christmas it was mid-20s. “It was nice and comfortable,” he said. “The evenings would get down to high teens. It made it quite comfortable.”
But Qatar is about as different from Wilmot, Nova Scotia, where Armstrong lives, as it can get.
“The City of Doha, which is the capital of Qatar, is a huge melting pot,” he said. “Being that they’re such a new country, all of their growth and development has happened by bringing outside nationalities and outside industry in, which has created a city that is hugely diverse in its cultural background. It has a huge Middle Eastern culture, obviously being a Muslim country.”
But there are South Africans, a lot of Canadians, people from Indonesia, the Philippines, he said. In fact, he teaches quite a few Filipino students.
Armstrong is most proud that he was able to make such a significant job and life change.
“I was proud of myself that I was able to step up and do that and realize there is something beyond slamming around in an ambulance,” he said.
Where he is in Qatar, it’s worlds away in a figurative sense as well as geographically. He said he’s working for an organization that appreciates the job he’s doing.
“They go out of their way to show their appreciation for you, whether it just be a passing with the dean of health sciences or the access that we have to gym facilities,” he said.
He hopes others will realize there is light at the end of the tunnel. “You don’t have to do this forever,” he said. “You can get out and find something better, and find something more healthy for yourself.”
While Armstrong was to fly back to Qatar on Dec. 27 to resume his teaching job, his leave of absence is over at the end of January and he’s been unable to receive an extension from his Nova Scotia employers.
Ironically, in his job teaching new paramedics in a far away country, he’s introduced a mental health component into the curriculum that speaks to the stress of the job and PTSD. Armstrong played former Kings County paramedic Kevin Davison’s video ‘When those Sirens are Gone,’ that deals with PTSD, to his class. Students learned the song and later when they Skyped with Davison, who suffers from PTSD, they sang the song back to him.