EMS Gathering 2018

You’re taken back by the old charm of the city. Historic architecture and cobble stone roads. The river winds and coils through the city as bridges allow for dry passage from one side to the other. Downy clouds dot the sky that which seems to reach for miles.


You notice there are paramedic ambulances, rapid response vehicles and motorcycles peppered throughout the street; police vehicles and civil defense cars sit intertwined. If you didn’t know any better you might think something terrible had happened. That is, until you hear the laughter and see the smiling faces. The hustle and bustle of people coming and going along the streets. You look up and that’s when you see it: your greeting. . .


EMS Gathering 2018

This year I was enough fortunate to attend another wonderful paramedic and prehospital oriented conference in Ireland: EMS Gathering. The conference was set in the center of Cork at the historic Metropole Hotel. And honestly, I couldn’t imagine a better setting. The conference had big shoes to fill, given that last year’s event was such a raging success set in the picturesque seaside town of Kinsale. But those shoes were worn magnificently.

The unique nature of The Gathering (as it’s come to be called), I think, is in its existence as one of the few international prehospital oriented conferences. Sure there are MD’s, PhD’s, RN’s, and every professional acronym under the sun – but in my experience, the event is run by and for paramedics and prehospital practitioners. And of course there is their credo, “Learning with Leisure”.  It’s in this motto that the conference delivers one of the most engaging and enjoyable experiences in this paramedics CPD calendar.

The Line Up

We started the line up with great panel discussions covering topics like the Irish Abroad and Communication’s and Dispatch. It was an interesting experience hearing stories from Irish paramedics that had ventured to the far reaches the globe to Australia, Canada and the UK. It’s something that I think is echoed throughout the profession internationally – more so now than ever before: traveling to practice. The speakers were notable, engaging and shared their experience of having traveled abroad to pursue and further their careers in paramedicine. Alan Batt shared his experience in Ontario, Canada while Peter Bowles discussed his role as a HART Paramedic in the UK. These perspectives offered fresh insight into life for paramedics in other countries and what it might entail.


The opening day started with lectures from some of the best and brightest in emergency, retrieval and paramedicine. Simon Carley, MJ Slabbert and Ontario’s own Mike Nolan all delivered brilliant lectures, that if I tried to summarize here, would do zero to no justice. We moved onto what I would deem an interactive lecture on the somber topic of Delivering Bad News. It always amazes me how this conference encapsulates the “train like you fight” mentalité so perfectly, even in the lecture portion. Actors were brought in, paramedics did what they do best, paramedicine. It truly felt like you were immersed in a resus with these people on stage – experiencing what they were experiencing not only from a provider stand point but from the family stand point.

And that was that – lectures and presentations complete – into the hands on phase. That’s the unique thing about The Gathering, it doesn’t follow conventional conference rules as far as I’m concerned. While there’s nothing wrong with sitting in a hall or auditorium listening to speakers, there are times when the need to delve into subject matter in a more intimate way is needed. And that’s what we did. Each attendee is required to choose a topic of interest and experience “Learning with Leisure” first hand. So that’s what we did! We had previously selected workshops that spoke to our interests that included, but weren’t limited to: Tactical Medicine, Airport Emergencies, Water Rescue and POCUS to name a few.

I was lucky enough to attend a workshop put on by none other than the point of care ultrasound experts from EMSPOCUS. This is a blossoming field in the world of paramedicine (especially in Ontario and Canada) that I’ve always had interest in and while I’ve attended a few smaller workshops it would be the first time I had actually attended a course. It did not disappoint. Not to mention the added pleasure and surprise of meeting Aidan Baron who was teaching as a guest instructor. We spent a few quality hours delving into the magic that is point of care ultrasound, discussing its function, the “how-to’s”, its place in paramedicine and its future. These educators took what has always seemed to me to be an intimidating, foreign and “beyond my scope” tool and made it approachable. They made it feasible that a paramedic from Ontario, Canada could use this effectively as a tool. A tool that has its place even in a large urban center. And I have to say, I don’t think there is any greater feat as an educator than to take an unapproachable, intimidating and sometimes alien subject and make it digestible, nay enjoyable.

After our respective workshops had been completed we found ourselves huddled into a night club, libation and learning ensued later in the evening. I attended the workshop entitled “Emergency Care on the Streets”. It delivered on topics that we sometimes see in paramedicine – but I would argue, rarely fully appreciate. Discussions on medical treatment on site at large music events, club drugs, STI incidence and mass casualty events made me appreciate the setting we were in and the difficulties large scale club scene’s must play for local ED’s and paramedic services.

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And just like that, the night went sideways with a live action demonstration from none other than The ATACC Group themselves. We’ve spoken about these multi-discipline professionals before and the incredible work they do in providing ultra realistic simulation and cutting edge education. But until you see it first hand, you truly can’t appreciate the effort they put into a demo, let alone one of their infamous and highly rewarding trauma courses.

We were first greeted by an irate man wielding a knife with hostage in tow. What to do, what to do . . .

Followed by what sounded and smelled like a speaker explosion – dust, glass, you name it. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. . . .

Needless to say, day 1 was unreal. The speakers, the workshops, the education and blossoming friendships were nothing short of incredible and inspiring.

Day 2 began much the same, speakers delivering incredible lectures. This time – heavy was the focus on perspective and self care. We heard from people who demonstrated incredible bravery and delivered tear inducing inspiration from the lecture entitled “The World Through My Eyes”. We were introduced to incredible individuals who have overcome so much in their lives to achieve amazing things. From those with physical disability to those who are on the continuing road to recovery from addiction. The speakers, every single one of them, deserved a standing ovation – which they eagerly received. We also discussed the importance of self care and what that truly means in the lecture “Our Well Being: Looking out for each other”. 

And as a final treat we were all whisked away in a convoy of buses with police escort in tow to find ourselves just outside of Cork City at Camden Fort Meagher, a historic fortification dating back to the mid 16th century. Picturesque and awe inspiring didn’t do it justice. . .

We were encouraged to wander through a myriad of different area’s of the fort, participating in workstations that looked at everything from suturing, to POCUS, to splinting and emergency airway management, to using Ketamine, Penthrox and Fentanyl for pain in trauma patients. The overarching theme: Trauma Through the Ages. Interesting lectures with smatterings of history interwoven made the lectures and the setting even more impactful.

We were invited to listen to discussions from leaders in the field of emergency & prehospital medicine and trauma like Mike Abernethy and Conor Deasy. To wrap it all up, a no hold’s bar demonstration by the Irish Defence Forces on how they perform TCCC, complete with helicopter hovering overhead waiting for extraction.

The Take Away

So that’s it – another EMS Gathering in the books. And what an experience. I think it’s important to take some time and really digest an event like this (hence the one month delay). Sure I’ve given you the abridged, Cole’s Notes version of the event. What I’ve briefly spoken about does it no justice whatsoever. But if these words and these pictures inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and try something different like traveling to a conference in another country, then mission accomplished. Hopefully this has inspired you to make connections. Because at the end of the day that’s what events like these are all about – connections. Meeting and interacting with people who do the same work you do from every corner of globe. Sharing stories, education, laughs and sometimes tears. Bringing the human factor back into conferences and education, especially for paramedics.

The education and the advancement of  paramedicine through events such as EMS Gathering is unparalleled. Paramedics need to own their profession – not just in Ontario and Canada but around the world. And that’s what events like this do – they allow paramedics to step into the spotlight and say, we are here. We are paramedics. We practice paramedicine. We are a global community of medical professionals.



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