Back in 2019, Judy was balancing her professional and personal goals as a Jujitsu Black Belt, winning titles and teaching classes, when she started part-time as an EMT at Royal Ambulance. A widely respected and highly decorated competitor, she entered EMS because she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives while being challenged mentally and physically. She figured she could find a community of likeminded people to would form the basis of a great work environment.
When the Pandemic started, Judy’s gym closed and the need for Emergency Medical Services surged. In an all hands-on-deck moment, she expanded her role, transitioned to full-time, and joined the People Team to support hiring and onboarding while balancing her work in the field.
She didn’t know it at the time, but her impact ipped the first domino paving the way for an elevated culture of support, in a moment when front line team members needed it so badly.
A bit of context – in the early days of the pandemic, the life of an EMT was lonely.
“We were the frontline of healthcare and people were pretty nervous to be around us outside of work.” explained Gomes. “My teammates, and really all of EMS shared a stint of isolation and it was challenging.
Sitting at the intersection of field work, and the front door of employment at Royal, Judy’s role accommodated her unique perspective to the organization. Lucky for us, she saw an opportunity to do more, kicking off what would eventually be the basis of community programs at Royal.
“Jujitsu challenges me to be mentally tough and think on my feet; when we were in the thick of COVID, instead of just sitting in it, I tried to view the stress and isolation as a challenge. I was craving fun and deeper connections, so I leaned into my experience and developed community and wellness programs.”
Judy’s proximity and engagement with incoming EMTs is important and worth highlighting - She helped new team members through the recruitment process, which meant that she was influential, respected, and widely viewed as a friend.
Her vantage point also exposed a problem.
“We’d hire smart and talented women, but after a few weeks, they would leave because they weren’t in the physical shape required to lift and move patients. I wanted to help my female counterparts enter the field and with my Juditsu/Weight training background I had all of the skills to make it happen.”
Judy developed Royal’s 90 Day Strength Training Guide (Located in the resources section on our website) and implemented the lift test that we now require to be hired.
With elevated awareness around body positioning, strength training, and a new lift test, Judy dismantled the lifting barrier, decreased female turnover, and reduced the number of lifting injuries.
Since then, Royal has committe to futher removing this barrier, implementing powered gurneys across the fleet and has installed gyms at each station to further support team member fitness and well-being.
But of course it didn’t stop there – focusing on fun, Judy started offering HIIT sessions at base and that was just the beginning.
“It turned out that a lot of people were craving the same things! I realized that focusing on fun programs meant that in a way, we were tending to our team’s mental health.”
She began to think bigger, pivoting HIIT Classes into running and rock climbing clubs. “We (the team) needed to be together in a non-work environment, outside of the rigs, away from patients, where we could have fun and be ourselves.”
Looking at each of these programs from a top down view could easily afford a perspective of: “Ok those are nice” but where things really get interesting is the minutiae of it all. Individually these programs are good, but the details and connections in between them are what make them great.
“What we’re building is a peer-to-peer support system – and what I love about that is that it’s OUR thing, not an imposed mental health program”
Part of the challenge of being in any specialized career is communicating with your network outside of work. If you’re writing code at your job, it’s hard to talk to non-coders about that - The same is true in EMS.
The value of a peer-to-peer support network in EMS ie. community at work, is that if you see something traumatic happen, maybe you’re first on scene to a car crash, or have a hard conversation with the family of a patient, you can talk it out with someone who gets it.
Your romantic partner, your non-EMS friends, family members, even a professional therapist all require a level of explanation whereas your team members just understand.
Coming full circle, when you meet someone at Run Club, tackle a route together at the climbing gym, or play video games together – whatever it is, so long as it isn’t work – that’s a moment when people can communicate freely, be themselves, develop deeper relationships build those peer-to-peer relationships that are so critical to maintaining mental health in this industry.
Fostering those connections is how you build a culture of community and support.