Alex Buchanan has been a paramedic for 14 years and a SEIU steward for 5 years. He is an Advanced Care Paramedic (ACP) currently working for Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville, Ont.
Alex was interested in a career in healthcare because he was very involved in caring for his four younger siblings. He was “co-opted” into a parenting type role early in life.
“I always felt like I was an organizer and I enjoyed looking after kids,” says Alex. “Caring always came naturally to me.”
He was also partly indoctrinated into healthcare, he jokes, because his grandfather often told him he was going to become a doctor. Though he is not a doctor, he still landed in healthcare. While he says he fell into paramedicine, it turned out to be a great fit for him.
“I like having the ability to be autonomous,” says Alex. “I am a Type A Personality, admittedly, and so I like having some form of control over the quality of care at a scene and/or given to a patient. I think the sentiment: ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself ‘is one many paramedics would echo. I know for sure that when the patients are in my care, they are getting the best care I can give them.”
“I think this goes back to me being an older brother again,” he says. “I had to manage unfamiliar or stressful circumstances and this lends itself well to managing high stress situations.”
Alex says that two common traits of many paramedics are that they prefer a level of autonomy and that they are comfortable with high stress situations. Though, he notes that the majority of calls they receive are not overly stressful.
Alex also likes that paramedicine is a very dynamic field. “The job is never boring. Everything is always changing. You have new patients and the situations are always slightly different.”
With his additional training as an ACP, it means he works with people in all disciplines of healthcare — including nurses, nurse practitioners, personal support workers, physicians, specialists, emergency department staff, and many others. He also coordinates with police services, fire services, a regional Base Hospital and the Ministry of Health. As an ACP, he is able to perform additional tasks in the field, such as; intubation, chest needles, surgical airways, pacing and cardioversion.
Furthermore, he really enjoys that his job allows him to meet people daily from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. “Everyone gets sick, it’s the universal equalizer.”
Involvement with SEIU Healthcare
One of Alex’s colleagues, who was the SEIU steward at the time and was leaving the role, suggested to him that his argumentative nature might make him a good fit for being a steward. He became an SEIU Healthcare steward and was mentored by that colleague.
“I try to be the best steward in the way that I interpret a steward should be,” he says, noting that it can be a challenging role. It is one that has led him to a lot of personal growth.
His approach to stewarding is to be patient and to give people the benefit of the doubt. “Grievances say that someone is guilty of something. So, I aim to have start with a conversation before submitting a grievance. This has been my way, and while it doesn’t always work, it is often a better way to build trust.”
“My advice to all stewards: The faster you lose your patience, the sooner the employer will stop listening to you,” says Alex. “Listening is difficult and taking the high road is difficult. Nobody has yet to master those two skills. But, those are tenets of stewards.”
Everyone should be feel like they won a little bit, says Alex, so they can all perform well in their jobs. That will lead to optimal care for patients. “At the end of the day, it is all about the patients.”
May is a part-time Registered Nurse (RN) and a Chief Steward at Yee Hong (YH). She is also a part-time Behaviour Support Nurse in the Behavioural Supports Ontario program (BSO).
Being able to diagnose her residents’ behaviours and determine appropriate interventions for them holds a lot of meaning to May, in that she can help everyone in the process.
“It means a lot to me that I can help make my colleagues’ jobs easier. Together, we help our residents find meaning in their lives and help them to calm down in their nursing homes.
“When our residents are in good hands, their families feel at ease. I think it is a blessing that I can help people every day and make a living while doing it.”
May is also advocate for mental health, which is a crucial component of care.
“I feel so good when I see my residents feeling comfortable and experiencing as few issues as possible. When they are happy and thinking positively, it’s easier to manage their physical illnesses.”
She wishes to see her members happy at YH as well, and she makes it her goal as a Chief Steward to encourage union involvement despite initial concerns.
“I am proud to be part of SEIU Healthcare. I feel the staff is doing their best for our members and is always striving to improve their services, such as offering many online training courses and changing how they view politics. At first, half of our members disliked the union because a portion of their pay goes toward it.”
“Still, our steward team never gave up. We support each other and contribute to our members in different ways, from new staff orientation to rebating money. I advise members to report any unacceptable behaviour they experience from their employers. In my experience, communication with members is key in getting them involved.”
Unsuccessful grievances and low funding in long-term care, among other issues, still exist in healthcare; May shows no signs of quitting her duties and hopes to see her members make small steps toward creating change.
“I will continue advising members to participate in political activities organized by SEIU Healthcare, like picketing and canvassing, and encourage them to connect with our brothers and sisters in other workplaces. It’s so important to widen our network and learn things outside our workplace that can help us be better leaders of tomorrow.”