Meet Kate Williams, 25-year-old emergency care technician
Women’s Month is about celebrating women from all walks of life who are doing amazing things. With this in mind and considering where we are as a country right now, it is important to acknowledge the first responders who risk their lives daily to save the lives of others. 25-year-old emergency care technician, Kate Williams, is one of those people on the front line in Port Elizabeth and below we chat to her about her career, women empowerment and her definition of success. What inspired you to become a paramedic and how did you go about it?
I didn't start out wanting to be a medic, I started as a volunteer in matric, I was a first aider in high school and soon started working with firefighters and medics in Cape Town. I went on to do a few short courses in safety and firefighting and got involved in some medical work. I applied to university, studied further and viola, I was thrown into the deep end of adulthood and saving lives. It was a light switch. I saw how everyone around me was so passionate about helping people and how the little time they had spent with these patients had changed their lives. That's the person I wanted to be. A few speed bumps later and here I am, loving every moment of it. The good, the bad and the messy.
What are the challenges you face as a woman in your industry?
Challenges I have faced in my industry include sexism, inappropriate responses and acts towards women and assumptions regarding the physical and mental capabilities of women. Over time, I have proven many people wrong and that we are definitely stronger than we look in all aspects. I have lifted many patients triple my size and height without fail and dealt with the worst of the worst situations, whether they committed a crime, were intoxicated or abusive patients. I am still here, unscathed by their remarks, actions and negativity. This is just what comes with the job and we are understanding of that as soon as we start.
In your industry or in general, have you seen any movement to gender equality?
There has been a ton of change from what I have seen and heard from more experienced medics. More and more women are being hired and are proving that they are just as valuable as the men in the same position. We have women in senior positions and paramedics who have filled posts that were previously reserved for men. We now earn the same as men would be based on our experience and qualifications. Women are proving that they're just as strong and suitable for the job as any man could be.
How do you balance such a high-stress job with your personal life and wellbeing?
Some days, there's absolutely no balance. And that's okay. Every day is a different chapter of an amazing story. One day can be chaotic and all I want to do is go home and have a hot shower but my friends would twist my arm to have a drink and be merry. Finding the balance is the difficult part, but once there is one, you will know exactly how to find it again. I debrief and talk about my experiences. Leaving this held in and compounding is a lot more damaging than people anticipate.
Recently, I had sought out professional advice on coping in alternative ways and to help me stay positive in any situation. Everyone and I mean everyone, has felt the effects of this last year and a bit and the most valuable lesson I have learnt is to find the good in everything you do. Even if it's something so small and insignificant. Surround yourself with positive energy and practise reflective listening. My balance comes from my energy and my down time. We are always switched on and sometimes don't know how to switch off when we are at home. Talking and quality time away from work helps this process greatly, and a walk on a beach or hike never did me any wrong.
What does Women’s Month mean to you?
Women's Month is a celebration of the women who stood up for their rights and the empowerment of women in our society. We have the right to be heard and the right to equal opportunities. This also creates awareness of how far things have progressed and what needs to be implemented to mitigate sexism, gender oppression and patriarchy, and give women control of their lives to better themselves and their families.
Who are the women in your life who have inspired you and taught you important lessons and values?
Just like every speech, my mom to start with. She worked so much when I was a child and I barely saw her but she would still take the time to sing me to sleep and help my brother with his homework. All while trying not to fall asleep on the dining room table. Empathy and finding the light in every tunnel are the two biggest lessons she taught me. She had been through the worst times of her life when we were young and she still got us through.
I am also inspired by the women I work with in all areas of my job and the ladies I have had the opportunity to study with. These women are pushing themselves to the limit by working extended hours in our hospitals and on our ambulances. These are the women who always greet with a small smile under their masks and selflessly help others. They are constantly giving me hope that one day I will be, in some way, like them. Lunch hours, bathroom breaks and tea breaks are non-existent in these times but they are still able to push through and be the best they can be. These are the nurses, doctors, lecturers and medics I have met since working and they are so passionate about what they do and who they treat. I don't miss any opportunity to send all my love to these outstanding women.
How do you define success?
My definition of success is finding fulfilment in my career and personal life. Finding joy and satisfaction from my job and helping people is also how I define success. As I develop in my career, my view of success changes with age, lifestyle, education and how I view myself. I consider myself to be a successful person because I am driven and satisfied by my job and my home life. I don't need social status or followers to define how successful I am. I am always prepared for a new challenge and reaching a new goal.
Do you have any advice for those looking at emergency medicine as a career choice?
Research and volunteering. Lots of it. It is a very taxing career, so be prepared to cry, get messy, feel heartache, nausea, pick yourself up and do it all over again. Don't pursue this career for financial gain, do it for the passion of helping people in their most vulnerable moments and knowing that you may be the last person they will ever see again. Be prepared for the absolute horror of worrying about the smallest of babies or the worst of the worst criminals and remaining ethical and professional at every given time. This job is so rewarding. It’s important to ensure that you are willing to work hard to reap the rewards be it minuscule or huge. And lastly, like the Grinch, your heart will grow larger and larger, in the best way possible.