Interviews

Rosie Thompson – From Air Hostess to Paramedic

Ellie Birch

What a pleasure it has been this week to interview Rosie Thompson! Not only is it an absolute delight, but she also has had a very interesting, unique and varied career to date. Starting out as a British Airways air hostess and more recently working on the NHS frontline as an Associate Emergency Ambulance Practitioner, Rosie has a real passion for caring for people and making her work worthwhile to herself as well as for others. In this interview, Rosie explained more about her experiences and her reasons for working within the medical field. Rosie also appeared on an episode of the BBC’s series ‘Ambulance’ last week.

For the purpose of our readers, please will you tell us a little about you…

My name is Rosie Thompson, I am 23-years-old and live in Redditch. However, I have lived in London for the past five and a half years. My first three years were spent working for British Airways at London Gatwick & London Heathrow, where I worked my way up to the first-class cabin. As you can imagine, I had the opportunity to meet and spent large amounts of time with some very elite personnel and even members of the Royal Family. For the other two and a half years, I worked for the London Ambulance Service as an Associate Emergency Ambulance Practitioner.

Rosie during her time working as an Air Hostess for British Airways

Why and how did you decide to become a paramedic?

Working for British Airways, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to explore some of the most exotic, glamorous and mesmerising countries in the world. I swam with wild whale sharks in Mexico, partied for three days solid on several occasions in Vegas (one of which resulted in me getting a tattoo…), bungee jumped in Singapore, unwound in the Maldives, flew across the Grand Canyon in a helicopter and had a champagne picnic deep in the canyon, saw the Northern Lights from 38,000ft, sailed across the Caribbean Sea on a super-yacht, climbed Table Mountain in South Africa (sustaining the worst food poisoning of my life), fed wild elephants in Kenya, drank delicious hot maple syrup coco in a treehouse 1500ft in the air in Canada…and the list goes on! Yes, it was an incredible time of my life! Some would say I had it all, but deep down I wanted a change. I felt that I really excelled when we had medical emergencies on board the aircraft: heart attacks, seizures, people choking (most often on bacon butties…), mental health crisis’, deep vein thrombosis’ etc. I was fascinated and drawn to the idea of helping people at a time where they felt genuinely helpless and in need. I was flying from Singapore to Sydney on one cold January afternoon, and I only had one passenger in my first-class cabin.

You generally build a very good rapport with your passengers in that cabin because you spend the best part of potentially 16 hours with them. On that day, my only passenger was a heart surgeon in London. We nattered away for 10 hours. I told him my dream was to pursue a career in medicine but I didn’t have the right A-Levels and couldn’t study because I’d built a life in London and I needed to be employed to pay for it. He informed me of a job on the NHS London Ambulance Service, whereby you didn’t need those specific qualifications because it was a 2.5 years on-the-job training course where you basically came out with the same qualification but don’t need to commit to university. I suppose it was like an apprenticeship.

Anyway, I looked into it and ended up applying for the role. I was shortlisted from over 600 applicants to the final 30 and was successful in securing the job. I started my training course three months after meeting the heart surgeon on the flight to Singapore and have never looked back. It was extremely challenging at times and there is not a day that goes by where you do not feel totally and enormously out of your depth. You learn the anatomy, physiology & pathophysiology of the human body, how to identify, diagnose and treat patients medical and traumatic conditions. You learn about a huge variety of medical drugs and how to decide what is the most appropriate method to administer them. We are taught how to identify individuals in need of safeguarding and how to do so. We are also taught how to deal with individuals having mental health crises’ and how to section them should they lack mental capacity. 

Rosie during a training exercise on the London Underground which prepared her for potential cases where somebody may have been hit by a train

What are the best things about being a paramedic? 

Life on the NHS frontline in Central London is incredibly stressful, heart-wrenching, harrowing and mentally as well as physically challenging. In saying that, it is also beautiful. It is moving and is full of wonderful opportunities. You never know what each hour of every day will hold. One day you could be delivering twins or helping somebody who is sleeping rough into accommodation. That feeling is truly invaluable! I like to think of these deeds as ‘earning my place in heaven’. These are the jobs that make the tough moments worth it. The next day you could be dealing with a multiple casualty RTC (road traffic collision) or, even worse, a cardiac arrest. No matter how many arrests we go to on the front line, they never get any easier. But there is something so special about being able to be that small ray of sunshine in a person’s darkest moment. If you can make somebody’s day just that tiny bit better, you know you have succeeded. I have always had an in-depth desire to want to help people and be there for others. I think being a healthcare practitioner that is a quality you must possess. In the words of Adam Kay (the author of This is Going to Hurt) ‘…a great practitioner must have a huge heart and a distended aorta through which pumps a vast lake of compassion and human kindness.’

Rosie after delivering her first baby – The Mother didn’t know she was pregnant!

Are there any moments that you would say you are particularly proud of? 

In July 2020, I was awarded an Excellence Award by our National Health & the London Ambulance Service. This is one of my proudest moments to date and still brings a tear to my eye as I type this. It was around 3am, I was exhausted as you can rightly imagine as we had been rushed off our feet with Coronavirus cases in the weeks prior. My crew-mate and I were sent, by our 999 control team, to a 30 year old female complaining of abdominal burning radiating around her rib cage. We arrived on scene to find a perfectly well looking lady. Fit, healthy and an abundance of radiance. She explained the pain had developed that afternoon. We checked her over thoroughly and she appeared to be the picture of health. Her heart was beating as it should be and her electrocardiogram was picture perfect, as was the rest of her observations. We were trying to avoid unnecessarily putting people in harm’s way by taking them to hospital during a time of such a nasty global pandemic if they did not need to. During the final stages of our patient assessment, our perfectly healthy-looking lady explained to us that the pain had spread to her chest and had worsened. Within 5 seconds she was seizing in her seat in the ambulance, her lips had turned blue and she went into cardiac arrest. My crew-mate and I looked at each other, top and tailed our patient onto the bed in the ambulance and began CPR. One of us put the defibrillator pads on the patient and began compressions while the other was preparing airway equipment and calling for URGENT backup. Within 92 seconds my crew-mate and I had completed a round of CPR and had administered one heavily “jouled” shock in attempt to restart this lady’s heart. The shock was successfully delivered, and the lady regained a heartbeat and began breathing again. I could not believe how quickly this lady declined and it just goes to show that you should never, EVER, judge a book by its cover. 

My crew-mate and I were awarded the highly sought-after Excellence Award. It is an award which is rarely given within the NHS. We transferred our patient on “blues-and-twos” to the nearest heart attack centre and her heart was stented. She was discharged later that week. I have brought a lot of people back to life during my time in the ambulance service – for some reason this part of the job will always stay with me. 

The teamwork, resilience and level of solidarity is what made that successful operation go so smoothly. It will forever be one of my proudest moments. 

What are the most challenging parts of life as a paramedic? 

The most challenging part of my job are the times where you feel that you might have failed as a healthcare professional. Those times are most often when you’ve worked on a dead body, pumping away compressions during vigorous CPR for almost an hour with the deceased’s family standing over you, begging you to keep going, and begging their family member to come back to life. But you can’t…and you know deep down there is no more that can be done. Often because they’ve been dead for too long or they have injuries incompatible with life. You join this job wanting to help people and give back to society. So admittedly, when you can’t help when people are in times of such desperation and need, you do feel as though you have failed. That is the worst part of my job.

Rosie in full Covid-19 PPE during the Coronavirus Pandemic

I attended a 15 year old male a couple of months ago. He was stabbed 7 times in his heart and had gone into traumatic cardiac arrest due to the severity of his injuries and vast blood loss, both external and internal. I was first on scene. The patient died minutes after we arrived. With laboured breathing, he looked me in the eye and his eyes slowly began to close as his heart stopped beating. My crew-mate and I were soon joined by the most advanced medics and doctors within the service. We worked on the young boy for over an hour. We did every medical intervention humanly possible…but it was too late. In this case, his injuries were incompatible with life and the blood loss was too immense for us to do anything else. We ROLE’D (recognition of life extinct) the patient on scene and left him in a field accompanied by the police until the coroner had arrived. I often think back to this job… could I have done anymore to save this boy’s life? I know in my heart of hearts the answer is no, but because we are human and we feel emotion…that’s a natural response. This is an example of a time I felt challenged while working on the front line. It is part of the parcel though in this job.

Rosie in full Covid-19 PPE during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Our NHS staff are incredibly valuable to our country. They have such huge compassion and overwhelming kindness in their souls. The goodwill and extraordinary work are what make our National Health so special. I truly believe our staff are the NHS’s most valued asset. We simply get through these tough times together and as a team which makes us the beating heart of our country; another attribute which makes Great Britain so great.

What are your plans for the future?

In August, I decided to take a 12-month career break from the NHS frontline. I felt overwhelmed, unmotivated, and chronically exhausted. I was successful in securing a job as a private nurse on a private super-yacht based in Italy sailing the world. I plan on continuing this level of work for 12 months, gaining experience as a solo medic before returning to my duties on the frontline in August 2021. I would love to potentially progress up the ranks or specialise in something – maybe neonates or paediatrics.

But, one thing I have learned these last few years is to just live in the moment. You never know what tomorrow will hold so never take anything for granted. Life is so precious and I feel so privileged to have experienced some of the things I have witnessed. 

Rosie on her last day working for the London Ambulance Service before taking a 12-month break to go private to attend

Rosie during her time working as an Air Hostess for British Airways

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