GNAAS’ youngest ever paramedic flies through sign-off day

“With a poker face, he asked me: “Do you think you’re ready?” He paused for a while then added: “Because we do.” I burst into tears.”

Hollie Smith from Chester-Le-Street joined the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) in January this year after nine years with the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).

Hollie is the youngest paramedic ever to join the GNAAS team at just 28 years old.

Last week, she went through the most intense and gruelling day of her entire career. An eight-hour assessment day which would, in turn, decide whether she was ready to fly solo with the critical care team’s doctor and pilot crew.

Prior to sign-off, new clinicians at GNAAS are always accompanied by a long-standing member of the team. But not now…

Hollie passed with flying colours.

Holly Taylor chatted to Hollie to find out more about her tough sign-off day, how she celebrated when she found she had passed, and how she’s settled in…

Hollie, how does it feel to be signed-off at GNAAS? 

I definitely feel a sense of relief and I feel really proud of myself. The day in itself was probably the most intense and stressful eight hours of my life and I can safely say I am glad it’s over!

Talk me through the sign-off day?

The day started off with me having to make breakfast for the team – it’s a tradition. I think I spent about four hours preparing this the night before. I made three types of breakfast muffins.

My simulations started at 10am and there were six people assessing me, so the pressure was really on. My simulations were practice scenarios of incidents I could potentially face with patients while on duty, so it was vital I got them right.

The first simulation was a fall from a height where the patient also had an air-conditioning unit on his legs, the second was a drug overdose and the third was a 9-year-old who was trapped under a boulder which was by far the most difficult.

Some of the operational team were acting as patients too, so I was really put through my paces.

Three written exams followed the simulations and then three interviews in front of a panel which was centered around our use of drugs, conflict resolution, and debriefing on the simulations I have just undergone.

It was such a long and tiring day. I was so happy when the assessments were over.

Were you nervous?

You honestly have no idea! The night before I had the worst sleep and just kept going over a million different things in my head, even down to overthinking whether I had made the team the right thing for breakfast.

On the morning before I left, I felt physically sick.

 How did it feel to be told you had passed?

After my assessments had ended, the team went into a room to chat about how it had gone. One of the paramedics Gordon then brought me back into the room and with a poker face, he asked me: “do you think you’re ready” then paused and added: “because we do.”

I started to cry and there were hugs and high fives all around. I was on cloud nine.

 How did you celebrate?

My partner took me out for food and drinks – margaritas, my favourite.

All of my family and friends are just so proud of me although they say they didn’t for a minute think that I wouldn’t pass.

Biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your career so far?

My sign-off day was something I knew that I was going to have to face at some point and although it wasn’t so much an obstacle because I knew it was something I had to do, it still scared me.

GNAAS is something I have worked towards throughout my paramedic career, and I knew how important the preparation was and that I really had to pass.

 What are you enjoying the most at GNAAS?

Learning from the team.

They are such a diverse bunch, and we are like a big family. They have helped me so much and I am constantly learning new things and bettering my skills and knowledge.

Their knowledge is second to none.

Even down to learning about aviation and sitting beside the pilot during flight and navigating. It’s been amazing.

 What have you found to be most difficult at GNAAS?

Definitely the imposter syndrome and believing in myself and that I deserve to be here,

I think I struggle with that sometimes.

I need to have more confidence in myself.

 What’s next for you?

I think the next few months are really just about consolidating my skills here and building on what I already know! It’s been a hell of a ride so far and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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