Tom Watson, flight paramedic

Tom Watson (56) has been a paramedic for 36 years, 25 of those years he spent as a helicopter paramedic. Today he chats with with us about what it takes to be a paramedic.

Watson has been happily married for 33 years to Shirley and the couple have one daughter, Tamzin, (29). Despite his busy career as a helicopter paramedic, he is also a private pilot and competes in the Comrades.

He has been working for ROCKET HEMS air ambulance since July 2020.

Why a paramedic?

“I wanted to become a doctor, but it seemed a bit boring at the time. I was introduced to the world of paramedics by a friend and I got an insight as to the opportunities, how things work and how this could go. That is when I took my opportunity in 1985.”

What is the best thing about your job?

“The best thing for me is to create calm in a chaotic environment. Giving people hope. I also like being in control of the situation and giving people direction in a time of crisis.”

And the worst?

“Besides the obvious that we spend a lot of time away from our families, it is really hard for me, when you have tried everything to save a patient and they die, to talk to their families and tell them the news. Even after 36 years, that is still the hardest part for me.”

How long did you study to be a flight paramedic?

“Paramedics study and train for years to get a degree to be able to help treat patients. There are different qualifications for paramedics. The top qualification is a four year degree, in which you touch on aviation medicine. However, you can’t just jump on a plane and start working. Before joining an aeromedical service, you have to undergo further aviation medicine training. For instance, pressure changes as the altitude changes. If you see us on the helicopters you probably think we just fly the patient but to us, it’s much more than that. There are all sorts of variables to think of. Sometimes we fly lower due to air pressure and certain injuries. It all depends on what is wrong with the patient. To be a flight paramedic, you need to do a certain amount of hours in the air.”

What makes Rocket stand out for you?

“On scene ICU treatment and quick response. We put our time and effort into being able to treat patients on the scene. We have a quick response time and quick transport. But most important, for me, is the golden hour we have right after the person got injured. The first hour is critical with regards to the treatment you get. If you get proper treatment and stabilisation then your survival outcome is much better.”