It was an award-winning end to 2016 for Tara Vasil.
Last month, the Antigonish native was honoured as paramedic of the year by the Paramedic Association of P.E.I.
“I really didn’t expect it,” she said, with a laugh, and then a long, thoughtful pause.
Vasil repeated “it was really unexpected.”
“There are so many other medics that have done such great things here in P.E.I. that I was just overwhelmed I would actually be
nominated, let alone chosen to be the paramedic of the year,” she said.
Vasil noted peers make the nominations and then a selection committee chooses the winner.
This recognition is the latest milestone in a stellar career, which started in 2005 with her graduation in primary care paramedicine.
“I have been a paramedic, not just in P.E.I., but also in Nova Scotia. I started off in Antigonish and surrounding areas,” Vasil said, noting she worked full-time in her hometown for a period, as well as neighbouring Port Hawkesbury.
“I have worked all over Nova Scotia. I have worked on the offshore of Cape Breton, down the Gulf of Mexico, up in the Northwest Territories and over in western Africa.”
About three years ago, Vasil and her fiancé moved to Canada’s smallest province.
“I went to Holland College for my advanced care paramedicine, which is an upgrade from my primary care,” she noted.
The seeds for her career were planted at a young age.
“I have always wanted to help people and I grew up with a first responder in my family; my stepfather is a paramedic for 25 years, so I guess you could say that I followed in his footsteps,” Vasil said.
She agreed her field is one that is changing constantly.
“It has definitely changed; it has gone from a first responder, CPR role to a mobile ICU, basically,” Vasil said. “There’s so many things that we can do now; we, basically, bring the hospital to you, as opposed to bringing you to the hospital.
“Just in the past 10 years, I have seen a huge expanded scope in all levels of paramedicine – from primary care right up to advance care,” she added.
It is understatement to say that Vasil keeps busy.
For the past year, she has been a member of the Paramedic Association of P.E.I board of directors, where she now serves as treasurer.
Vasil is also lead editor of the association’s newsletter, along with overseer of a merchandise store.
“I am also the lead of the mental health committee,” Vasil noted.
She also organizes the paramedics’ symposium, which will become an annual event.
“I have also started a first responders’ mental health education day here,” Vasil said.
She drew inspiration from John Garth MacDonald, an Antigonish native and founder of Helping the Helpers, an annual
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness and education day.
“I wanted to start educating other paramedics about mental health and what we could further do,” Vasil said, noting MacDonald
was her first supervisor after graduating.
“Seeing what John Garth has done for his fellow first responders, I wanted to do that for the paramedics of P.E.I.”
MacDonald was a keynote speaker for the first Breaking Barriers First Responder Mental Health Education Day in Charlottetown.
Vasil noted planning for the 2017 event is underway.
“I have also started a peer support group over here, called the Wings of Change,” she said of the once-a-month meeting for first responders at the Canadian Mental Health Association offices.
“Anyone, from firefighters, police, nurses, can come and we just talk. It is a great little support group for those that feel that they need to come out and just chat with somebody.”
If that schedule isn’t full enough, she also serves as the phone coordinator, in Charlottetown, for the annual IWK Children’s Miracle Network Telethon.
She also coordinates the radiothon in the province for the hospital.
Vasil also works as a 911 and ambulance dispatcher.
“I am, actually, just coming from a nightshift at our CEC, which is our collaborative emergency centre, where I work with a nurse, at night, when there is no doctor,” she said, in a phone interview, while travelling home to Antigonish for the Christmas holidays.
“When patients come in, me and a nurse will assess the patient and call the doctor, and treat the patient from there.”
Vasil added she really likes the clinical setting.
“I have always, kind of, worked pre-hospital; working in the clinical setting, with a nurse, I find, is very eye-opening; you get to see what the nurses can do, as well,” she said.
“When I was working offshore, I worked in a clinical setting, so it kind of brings both of those roles together.”