When Rosie Met Sheila: Women in EMS Part 6: A Visit Down Under

Female medics south of the equator face the exact same challenges as their U.S. counterparts

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia." --Charles M. Schulz

When the idea of writing a series about Women in EMS was discussed, one of the things I set out to do (and have hopefully succeeded) was to walk the line between complaint and observation. I, along with thousands of other women, entered the field to do the work--usually understanding that we would be the underdogs in a male-dominated field. There's no misperception here, no sense of entitlement, no searching for reparations for grievances real or imagined. Could conditions and situations be better and more supportive for women? Sure. I would never say that isn't the case. George Bernard Shaw said that the reasonable man will adapt himself to the world, and that holds true for reasonable women as well. I am absolutely not saying that we should allow ourselves to be victimized just for the right to do the same job as someone else. I am saying that across the country, for the last few decades, a sisterhood of providers have gritted their teeth and gone back to work shift after shift to build for us a standing in a career that would otherwise not exist.

So who's to say that it's any different anywhere else in the world?

If you know me, you know that I love gadgets and social media. I have found that Facebook (when its powers are used correctly) can be an exceptional tool for networking on both personal and professional levels. It is easily one of the 16 different ways people have to contact me, and for me it is informative and entertaining. It's also one of the ways I get ideas or different perspectives, as the base of my friends list is a cross-section of providers (past and present) from all areas of the world and types of care. This month's piece is a direct result of the power of social media from a small post I have on a dusty group for Women in EMS.

The View from Australia

From a single post to an e-mail exchange, I found a bunch of lovely ladies south of the equator who face the exact same challenges we do, only with another flavor. Here we find Associate Professor Tina Ivanov, an intensive care paramedic and education manager in Melbourne (where it is currently 75 degrees and sunny, while I'm here, looking out over the frozen tundra of my yard where my dogs keep falling through the icy crust into a foot of snow beneath).

Tina recently created and registered the Australasian Council of Women in EMS (ACWEMS), a new organization offering a two-fold role. They not only want to support women in EMS, but want to provide advocacy for improving women's experiences as patients as well. It's ambitious and has been tough going for them, but they believe it's absolutely worth the effort. Tough as nails those Aussies are...

It's down here, on an island so big it's a continent, that Rosie meets her match. For my time in the ghetto, Sheila's got hers in the bush. My "office" has rats and guns; hers has roos and impossible terrain. I deal with a bouquet of hepatitis varieties and the culture of HIV and other delicious pathogens; she has the most toxic species of plants, insects and animals in her backyard. Above all else, she is proof positive that gender is an identifier, not a barrier. Let's talk to "Sheila," shall we?

How were you treated when you first entered the field? Did you ever feel that your gender was focused on?

Tina: I'd grown up being told women can do anything, so when I entered the ambulance I was blown away by the fact a chauvinistic attitude actually existed. On day #1, I was told to my face that the only reason I was there was to meet a government quota. "Good men missed out on this job because of you." So I knew from that moment on I would have to prove my worthiness. I worked in Victoria, where only a few women had been employed, so we were trail-blazers in one sense. One thing we all learned early on was that as long as we could lift ‘the heavy end' and we knew our stuff, we were pretty much accepted as one of the boys. Though having quick wit and thick skin certainly aided survival around the branch.

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