The culture of coping in paramedics

Author: Elizabeth Goble

Goble, Elizabeth, 2020 The culture of coping in paramedics, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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Emergency personnel encounter psychologically disturbing or traumatic situations as a matter of course in their daily work life, with their exposure to trauma being far greater than that of the general public and more likely to be outside the range of usual human experience. As a result, they have an increased risk of suffering mental health consequences (Regehr & Bober, 2005, p. 184) which may, in turn, lead to a reduction in work performance and overall quality of life. Research outlining the culture of coping of paramedics, including which strategies they employ, both formal and informal, to manage potential mental health risks and the meanings they attribute to them, is sparse. This study is entitled ‘The culture of coping in an Australian ambulance service: a case study in managing the risks of mental health related trauma.’ It describes the paramedic culture of coping and the strategies they employ to protect themselves and each other from the impact of traumatic stress.

Drawing on the interpretivist theoretical perspective of Symbolic Interactionism, this research is a case study using the tenets of naturalistic inquiry. The perspectives of 23 paramedics from three different geographic locations servicing very different populations were obtained using semi-structured interviews. The findings demonstrate that the culture of coping differs dramatically depending on paramedic generational position and the location of their primary workstation. Added to this, the passage of time has altered societal expectations and this, in turn, has had an impact on the appropriateness of one of their most utilised coping strategies: humour. These cultural differences are theorised using Tönnies’ typology of the differences between society and community (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft).

This research will better inform understandings of the cultural ideas and practices that develop within emergency services which enable paramedics to manage stressful and traumatic events. It is hoped that this knowledge will help to underpin new approaches to the management of trauma for paramedics (Moynihan, 1998). 

Keywords: Paramedics, culture, coping, stress, strategies, mental wellbeing

Subject: Health Service Management thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Paul Arbon