My job

My job: trainee consultant practitioner emergency care Matt Sawyer

Former reserve armed forces medic Matt Sawyer explains why maintaining a good work-life balance is vital.

Former reserve armed forces medic Matt Sawyer explains why maintaining a good work-life balance is vital.


What is your job?

I am trainee consultant practitioner emergency care at Health Education England in Wessex. The consultant practitioner development programme is a three-year programme to prepare practitioners for consultant practice. It provides high level training and mentoring across professional leadership, education, service development and expert clinical practice. It combines academic study with clinical placements in different settings and trusts. 

Why did you become a paramedic and trainee consultant practitioner?

I was interested in human biology at school and wanted an exciting career. I also love the outdoors so becoming a paramedic seemed to combine all of these interests. I became a trainee consultant practitioner because I wanted to feel that I had mastered something – I’m still working on this – and could help other clinicians do the same.

What might you have done otherwise?

I would probably have joined the regular armed forces as a medic. I also thought about a degree in electronic engineering.

How and where have you developed your emergency care skills?

All over the place. As a military reservist in the ambulance service, in the emergency department, and on clinical attachment to anaesthetics and acute medicine. Academic study has helped me develop critical thinking and learning skills that are crucial in emergency care. 

How does your current job make use of these?

I make use of my knowledge and these skills with every patient, from the foundational assessment skills I learned as a paramedic to the complex clinical problem solving skills I have since acquired. My emergency care team is adaptable and can apply a wide range of skills to a variety of situations. I use these skills in practice, but also in leadership, education and quality improvement work.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Making a difference. Nothing beats direct patient care, but I also love teaching and seeing other people develop. I am learning that making a difference through education, research and quality improvement can be hugely rewarding.

What achievement makes you most proud?

There are a few cases where I have played a part in saving lives, which nearly all of us went into emergency care to do. Aside from that, receiving an award for outstanding service for my actions in Afghanistan in 2010. When I complete this training programme, I will add it to this list.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced, and how have you overcome it?

Imposter syndrome is something we all face, but being honest with yourself and others, reflecting, and having a critical friend help limit its impact. Emergency care demands a lot from us and, like many of my colleagues, I find maintaining a work-life balance tricky. Recognising that work is an important part of life but not the most important is vital. Setting, checking and adjusting boundaries also helps.

What makes a good paramedic and/or clinical practitioner?

Dynamism, because you need to be flexible. Honesty, because it’s refreshing. Self-awareness, because we need to recognise what we are good and not good at, and how our behaviour, speech and actions affect others.

What keeps you awake at night?

Usually mulling over situations where I feel I could have done better. Thinking about these things in the middle of the night does not give an accurate perspective so I write down my thoughts and feelings, and set aside another time to reflect on them.

What advice would give to paramedics and clinical practitioners who are starting out in emergency care?

Write down something you have learned every day and get used to reflection. Never stop learning, not only to build clinical knowledge, but also about yourself and your team. As a society we are becoming more aware of the personal cost of workplace stress and shift work so look after yourself, your family and your colleagues. Get into good habits early in your career.

What is likely to affect emergency care workers most over the next 12 months?

An uncontrolled, increasing volume of complex, unwell patients taking its toll on the workforce. The risk of burnout is real for all of us – nurses, paramedics, doctors and support staff. We need to be better at looking after one another and ourselves or there will be fewer of us looking after patients. 

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