*Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series about Baton Rouge’s first responders.
For 26-year-old paramedic Hillary Duncan, a potential tragedy opened the door to a future of service to others.
Duncan was first exposed to emergency medicine when she was just 16-years-old, when she helped save the life of a friend during a medical emergency. The experience inspired a passion for medicine and assisting others.
“I think ever since then I’ve always been drawn to helping people,” she said.
Working as a paramedic wasn’t originally on Duncan’s radar, though. She originally pursued nursing at Southeastern Louisiana University before the opportunity to work in emergency services developed.
Seizing the opportunity, Duncan decided to change paths and graduated from the East Baton Rouge Parish EMT-Paramedic Training Academy in 2013.
Duncan said she loves what she does and hasn’t looked back since becoming a medic. Each day is different from the last, and it’s impossible to predict what a shift will hold until the calls start coming in. Even then, Duncan said she and her partner understand that the call notes only reveal a portion of the full picture, and there’s often more happening at each scene than what initially meets the eye.
The uncertainty of her career means that Duncan must be quick on her feet and remain calm, both to care for the patient and to comfort family members and bystanders at the scene. Learning to maintain her cool on scene has come largely through experience and training, she said.
“I think for anyone in the medical field there’s never a point where you know everything and exactly what to do,” Duncan said. “There’s always room to grow and learn.”
It’s clear from her passion that Duncan isn’t complacent in her career. She said she strives to keep an open mind and is always excited to learn new things in order to become a better medic.
In the future, she hopes to become a field training officer and share her experiences with medics-in-training. She said both her night and day shift partners are FTOs, and their students’ questions often challenge her own knowledge and push her to learn more.
Working with students also helps to build bonds within the organization and strengthen the medics’ close relationships. Duncan said the EMS’ close-knit family environment is key to working successfully in the field.
Duncan said she thinks of her partners like siblings, and their trust is crucial both when working on the scene and when facing the emotional aftermath of tough calls.
For Duncan especially, growing up in Baton Rouge means it’s not unheard of to respond to calls involving friends and family members. She once ran a call on her best friend’s father, and though she wanted to be there for the family as a friend, she knew she had to set aside her emotions while on the job.
Learning how to manage emotions has also been important in potentially dangerous situations, Duncan said. She and her partners have faced calls where they worried for their own safety, but that their concern came second to the needs of the patient.
Reflecting on her ability to care for others helps Duncan put each situation in perspective.
“No matter what happens, I just have to remember why I started this job,” she said. “It’s kind of like going back to remembering why you first loved something or enjoyed doing something. I just enjoy helping other people. I always have.”
A moment that stands out in Duncan’s career is the first time she helped revive a patient. Early in her position, she and her partner responded to a call involving an unresponsive patient that was more serious than anticipated. Duncan said by the time they reached the hospital the patient was alive and responsive.
Knowing that she and her partner were able to save that person’s life en route to the hospital is a rewarding feeling, Duncan said. As long as she’s helping, whether it’s her best friend’s dad or a complete stranger, she’s happy.
“If I know them or not it doesn’t make a difference to me as long as I’m doing good for the community or the families or the patients,” Duncan said. “It feels good to be there for other people.”
Photo by Greta Jines.