Taking the mission out to the streets
Not much in this world surprises Richard Galeano. A former paramedic for 44 years, Richard has seen his fair share of life’s light and shade on the streets, on the water, and in the air.
“One of the things that strikes me about a paramedic is you never see everything,” Richard says.
“It just constantly amazes me what people do to each other and do to themselves.”
Richard’s career in paramedicine has taken him to the streets of Melbourne through Ambulance Victoria, overseeing large quarters of South-East Queensland as Assistant Commissioner for Ambulance Queensland, and out to sea with the Australian Border Force as an intensive care paramedic.
“Most of my work has been with sick people,” Richard said. “There’s no doubt that some of the jobs I did had an effect, but generally I saw it as a challenge.”
Not all of Richard’s experience as a paramedic has been inside an ambulance, either.
“My experience as a paramedic is very different from other paramedics. I used to put my hand up for everything – I did policy work, designed the Ambulance Report Form they have to put in, I designed and built a conference one year. Everything and anything.”
From school drop out to lecturer
These days, the 72-year-old is a Paramedic Lecturer for ACU based at the Brisbane Campus. He sees his role as “putting things into context” for the next generation of paramedics.
How Richard ended up teaching at university somewhat baffles him. Although he’s a first-in-family to attend university, as a young boy, he detested school.
“I hated school,” Richard said. “My mum told me to get a job or go back to school, so I got a job.”
Richard worked in the Royal Australian Navy for five years before realising it wasn’t a sustainable career path for him.
“I was very lucky because when Gough Whitlam was in, they introduced support for veterans,” he said. They paid me a wage to go back to Kelvin Grove High School and do my Year 11 and 12 in 10 months and then I got into engineering in Melbourne.
“I got a job working in a low-speed wind tunnel and was going to uni part-time. I wanted to be a field engineer and that just wasn’t going to happen. So I got out, and saw an ad for paramedics with the then Metropolitan Air Service so I applied and then got a job.”
While teaching at ACU, Richard came to know Emmanuel City Mission, a local outreach centre in South Brisbane for the city’s homeless. Emmanuel City Mission is a partner organisation of ACU’s Community Engagement placement unit, which students are required to undertake during their degree.
Early in 2022, Richard established a Health Clinic at the centre to provide regular health checks and first aid to whoever walks through the doors of the outreach centre. ACU final year paramedicine students can volunteer to take up a shift.
Richard sees the health clinic as a way for the university to “operationalise” its mission.
“One of the staff at Emmanuel City Mission said to me that 95 per cent of the people there have a dual diagnosis because of alcohol or drug addiction. I think that’s sad,” Richard said.
“I know that I can’t do too much about it, but if possible, I do provide a bit of an assessment service and minor cares.”
He said the idea to set up a health clinic at Emmanuel City Mission came from a former student, Kelsey Orbansen-Thew, who graduated with a Bachelor of Paramedicine from ACU in 2021.
Kelsey, who now lives in London, volunteered at Emmanuel City Mission for her Community Engagement placement. She told Richard there was a missed opportunity to provide regular health care assessments at the outreach.
“I asked her to write something up about how we might do that,” Richard said. “I think I started in the middle of 2021 trying to think through the proposal. Then in Semester 1 of 2022 we opened it up and we’ve got 20 students going there.”
Passing on wisdom
Richard said one of the greatest joys about teaching paramedicine is the camaraderie with his students.
“They’re a lot of fun, and I like fun,” Richard said.
“I see my job here as being broader than just teaching them to be a technical paramedic. I see it as making sure they know what they’re getting into because it’s not all it seems to be. Making sure that they understand that they’re going to have to look after themselves physically and mentally.”
Richard also knows that one day, he might have to rely on his former students.
“The realities of life mean I’m getting on, and they might come to me one day,” he said.
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