July 21, 2014 at 3:50 PM
Canadians say they have pretty tough jobs.
One in four Canadians describes their job as being highly stressful, according to a Statistics Canada survey released this spring. Almost two-thirds of highly stressed workers say it’s the job itself, rather than factors outside work, that triggers their stress.
Raymond de Vries, a counsellor with B.C. Institute of Technology, says every job has challenges.
And every job is “differentially tough,” he says. Work that’s impossibly difficult for one person may be fertile ground for another.
De Vries divides the working world into three groups. In most lines of work, there are a few people who are inept, others who are gifted and the rest are those who float somewhere in the middle, he says.
The folks to watch, he says, are the gifted ones holding down difficult jobs. These people gracefully cope with challenges and stresses that might overwhelm the rest.
“They’re the whippersnappers, the top of the top, the one per cent of the one per cent,” de Vries says.
“They’re high achievers. They excel.”
These enviable few are good at two things. They’re bold enough to aspire to a job that the marketplace judges to be difficult.
They’re also smart enough to know whether they have the temperament and ability to learn the skills and manage the stresses. They’ve asked themselves: “Who am I and how can I best spend my time on planet Earth?” de Vries says.
“They’ve researched the job and are plugged into themselves,” de Vries adds.
Young people shouldn’t reject a tough career because it might pull them out of their comfort zone, de Vries says.
“You could have people who sell themselves short by making a comfortable choice or who play it safe out of fear,” de Vries says.
“When you’re 40 or 50, will you be in a job where you’re on your personal cutting edge? In an ideal world, people would make career choices where they can thrive and lead optimal, wonderful lives.”
Meet seven whippersnappers. These folks have jobs that are among the toughest in the province — jobs with significant mental, physical or emotional challenges.
Bronwyn Barter knew at the age of five that she was going to be a paramedic.
Barter was that old when she, her sister and her dad came upon a car accident late at night near Chilliwack.
Two children, who were not wearing seatbelts, had been tossed through the windshield of their family’s car.
Her dad, an RCMP officer, found the two kids and placed them in the police station wagon with Barter and her sister.
The two young victims were covered in blood. One was unconscious.
“I watched the paramedic treat the kids with such compassion,” recalls Barter. “Ever since then, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. That picture has always stayed in my head.”
Thirty-four years later Barter is chief of Nelson’s paramedic station and president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., a union with about 3,900 members.
Paramedics may get calls that take them to scenes of horrific injury, but they waste no time dwelling on horror, Barter says.
They’re too busy deciding what they need to do to save lives or relieve suffering, she says.
The days when paramedics showed up simply to move patients to hospital are long gone. Today, they’re highly trained in treatments that can make a difference between life and death.
“There’s a huge responsibility,” she says. “You have people’s lives in your hands.”
The job comes with risks. Paramedics can be infected with blood-borne pathogens or get needle-stick injuries. They may suffer spinal push-and-pull injuries as they lift patients.
Others are gripped with crippling flashbacks. Some get sidelined by stress piled on stress and are no longer able to work.
There have been 10 line-of-duty deaths among paramedics in B.C. since the 1980s, Barter says.
The personal rewards that flow from keeping a person alive are enormous, Barter says.
Paramedics hold a deep appreciation for human lives because they know how easily they can be taken away, says Barter, who has a 10-month-old daughter.
“You live in the moment and value everything. You have seen people lose things they take for granted.”