Nathan Friesen graduated with a Diploma in Outdoor Leadership (2014) and went on to become a paramedic with BC’s Ambulance Service. We asked him about his journey and for advice on following a similar career path.
What initially drew you into Columbia’s Outdoor Leadership program?
I knew that after I graduated, I wanted to do at least a year of bible collage. I was immediately drawn to CBC, as it was close to home, and the Outdoor Leadership program stood out as a program that seemed to be right for me. It didn’t take me long to decide on the OL program, and work for 2 years after school to pay for my time at CBC. I didn’t go to really any other college or university sites – the decision to go to CBC just felt right – and I never doubted it for a second. I didn’t go into the program with the intention of being an outdoor guide, but I knew it would be fun and challenge me. The elements that drew me in were the tight-knit group of students that you are part of with OL doing outdoor trips, learning about backcountry travel and wilderness first aid, and furthering a passion for enjoying the outdoors. I would say that it has affected my life more than I have expected by influencing the things I have an interest in and the people whom I spend time with.
What were some of the highlights of the OL program for you? What are some of the most valuable skills you developed here?
I would say the highlights would definitely be the first and second year trips. Developing a solid experiential base in various outdoor skills has been very helpful for moving onto Search and Rescue and being able to enjoy multiple outdoor activities in general. I learned how to make decisions when the weather is horrible and you are very uncomfortable, which then enabled easier decision-making when everything is good and you are warm and dry. Being able to make decisions while being uncomfortable in harsh environments is a good skill to have.
Another valuable skill I learned was learning to work with different types of people and personalities in harsh environments. One thing I have found is that its hard to be superficial or pretend in the outdoors when you are around other people for days at a time. This was also one of the highlights of OL for me – getting to know people on a deeper level, developing lasting friendships, and making good memories of fun times on trips together (but also being miserable and cold together). The camaraderie is one of my favourite things in OL, and I enjoy still being part of the tight-knit community that existed when I did OL.
I also really enjoyed testing the limits of what I can physically and mentally handle, especially during the “hell night” scenario and some of the trips. It has made me realize our potential as humans to do some really cool things, and made me realize how well God created our bodies to survive and adapt. In the OL program, I felt I also learned to be disciplined. One good example of this was waiting to deal with my own needs (such as setting up our tent, unpacking, and putting on dry clothes), instead, taking care of others needs above my own (in this case by making soup once we got into camp). You go from only worrying about yourself to being so in tune to those around you that you don’t have to think about your own needs and instead focus on the needs of others. This has impressed on me the need to discipline myself to think of others (such as my wife) before myself.
I would say my experiences and what I learned at CBC in the OL program have been of more benefit and far more valuable then the piece of paper stating that I have a diploma in Outdoor Leadership.
Columbia’s programs have a strong core in biblical studies, theology – how did those courses equip you for what you’re doing today?
I would say that taking some of CBCs courses has really made me step back and examine and test my ideas and beliefs. Having biblical knowledge is very important to me. Also, the courses equipped me for dealing with people who aren’t Christian, and who don’t share the same beliefs that I do. I believe the CBC experience has really grounded me in who I am, what I am passionate about, and what I believe. Do I know everything or have the answers to all the questions? Of course not. But I believe taking part in the classes and courses that are part of CBC’s programs expanded and strengthened my faith and knowledge. An example of a class that has really equipped me for what I am currently doing was Marriage and Family class. As I do many stressful jobs (such as being a paramedic), it really helps to a healthy, loving marriage, and to be able to talk with my wife about the calls that I do and how it is affecting me. Marriage and Family class taught me a lot of communication skills and other faith-based skills that can be applied to marriage.
You’re a paramedic now – was that something you always wanted to do? What drew you into that career?
I decided that I wanted to be a paramedic after I was done my first year of OL. I think I was drawn in because paramedicine is fast-paced, always changing and different, and has dynamic environments – from someone’s apartment to a ditch on the side of the highway. I enjoy working with people and being a part of a team; as a paramedic, you depend on your partner and you are constantly interacting with a lot of people. I also liked the idea of using and continually improving skills that I have learned to accomplish a job where no two calls are the same. Paramedicine involves knowledge base, experience, and a creative ingenuity in order to problem solve. I like how every situation is different, that there is constant turnover and change. I wouldn’t call being a paramedic “my career” as currently many other things take up more of my time then working for BC Ambulance as a paramedic, but I enjoy working as a paramedic and will probably continue to work as one while pursuing other jobs and passions that involve a lot of the same features as paramedicine.
How does being a paramedic connect with your sense of calling and purpose?
I enjoy paramedicine and being in intense situations that people normally shy away from. Honestly, I like being where the action is. I like being thrown into situations where situations and statuses can change rapidly, where nothing is really certain. I find being a paramedic is exciting, and even though it sounds cliche, I enjoy making a difference. It’s not always as heroic as it may seem. Sometimes making a difference is the way you advocate for your patients at the hospital, or in just talking to your patient, who really just needs someone to be kind and listen. I can advocate for my patient so that they receive the best care I and others can give, and the care that they need. While paramedicine may not be the career that I settle into exclusively, I feel that it allows me to make a difference in the world we live in by interacting with and advocating for people who need a little help.
Tell us about how the process of joining and training with BC Ambulance looked for you.
In order to be a paramedic, I had to take an Emergency Medical Responder course (EMR) through the Justice institute of BC. After that, I applied to the Primary Care Paramedic (PCP) program at JIBC. After I passed my interview and was accepted, got my uniform and textbooks, I entered a 1 year program to become a paramedic. First month is online courses, learning anatomy and physiology of the human body; after this, the real work began. I had around 5 months of Monday-to-Friday classes (probably 12 hour days due to studying after school). This is about 5 months of living/breathing school, simulations, and exams.
After I completed the class portion, with some mixed in ride alongs with BC Ambulance crews and a hospital practium, I have preceptorship. This is around 3-4 months, and about 4 ambulance blocks (12x12hour shifts) and several hospital shifts. I was on car, with a mentor, running calls like I would if I were working as a paramedic. There is a list of competencies that you have to complete, and once I had completed those and passed all my preceptorship shifts, I graduated from the PCP program. I then had to get your medical licence by passing more written tests and a practical exam for the licencing board of BC. After this is done, I got my class 4 drivers licence, and applied to BC ambulance. After waiting a few months for an interview and finishing the hiring process, I got my first station in Princeton, BC. After I was hired, I got, and will continue to get, more on the job training and courses. Paramedicine involves a lifetime of learning, so as a paramedic, I am required to do a certain number of course credits and patient calls a year.
What are some of the things employers are looking for in a paramedic?
There is only one ambulance service in BC, BC Ambulance Service. During the hiring process, employers are looking for a EMALB Licence (PCP,EMR ect), a class 4 drivers licence, a clean drivers abstract, and the ability to satisfactorily answer 6 questions (in STAR format) that seek to determine how you would act as a leader, resolve conflict, etc. They aren’t necessarily interested in your experience, but rather your personality traits and characteristics. OL builds traits of leadership, resilience, calm in the face of conflict/stress, and the ability to decision make under stress, which are traits that BC Ambulance looks for in a paramedic.
What advice do you have for men and women looking to become paramedics? What steps should they take?
If you already know you want to become a paramedic, take EMR and PCP through the JIBC and get your medical licence, so that you can be employed by BCAS. I would also give advice to future paramedics to study lots and study hard in the program, the program only lasts less than a year, but make sure you set aside a day to relax and do things you enjoy. When you become a paramedic, don’t internalize the things you see and do, make sure you have someone to share your good days and your bad with – and if you have a bad day, make sure you take time to debrief and pursue life.
If you want some bible college experience, lifelong friendships, and the experience of learning lots about yourself and growing who you want to be, then CBC is the right choice. I have never regretted the 4 years I spent committed to CBC, (2 years working to pay for my tuition, and 2 years actually enrolled), as it led to lifelong relationships, inspiration, and strengthening both a passion for others and for the outdoors. It was time and money well spent, and if I went back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing.