Celebrating women at Wellington Free Ambulance this International Women's Day

International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women all over the world. Motivating men and women to think, act and be gender inclusive. Visibility and awareness help press positive change for women so this year Wellington Free Ambulance is celebrating Julie Sherston, their longest serving female member of staff.

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“It has been a privilege to be part of so many people’s lives. As ambulance staff we get to interact with people when they are often at their lowest. People are amazing to let us, complete strangers, into their lives without a second thought.”

Julie signed up to join Wellington Free Ambulance as a volunteer 31 years ago, but she never made it to her volunteer training. After being accepted onto the volunteer training course and picking up her new uniform, the interview panel were so impressed they asked Julie to apply for a permanent role. “When I started we did most of our training on the job. We would spend three week blocks up in Auckland at the ambulance officer’s training school before heading back to Wellington and putting what we learnt into practice” remembers Julie.

Since then Julie has worked as an Ambulance and Station Officer. She trained and qualified as an Intensive Care Paramedic, worked on the rapid response vehicles and gained the ability to work as a flight paramedic on rescue helicopters.

Julie is now the Learning and Development Advisor training all the new emergency medical call takers, dispatchers and clinical paramedic advisors. After six weeks of training and being put through their paces, Julie ensures all staff in the Communications Centre are highly skilled and qualified before they work with patients and 111 callers.

Sadly it wasn’t always a steady ride. Women were only welcomed to join the work force as Ambulance Officers in 1981, six years before Julie joined. She was one of just a few women on the team and remembers her first day. “A male colleague said to me ‘look at that little girl, she wouldn’t be able to lift anything’.”  Julie says this comment stuck with her for a long time and only made her more determined to succeed, “we would often do things differently, learning different techniques that suited our way of working, doing more and doing better to show them it was possible and we were just as capable as they were.” Whilst things were changing, a woman on shift was still new territory for the service.  Julie and her colleague were the first to request maternity leave, something the organisation hadn’t dealt with before. It was up to the female workforce of the 1980s to set the expectations and pave the way for all future expectants mothers working on the road.

As mothers, full time workers and skilled paramedics, Julie and her female colleagues proved themselves to be just as valued as their male team members and over the years more women joined the work force. Women now account for 52% of the front line paramedic staff and 60% of emergency medical call takers at Wellington Free Ambulance.

Regardless of her rocky start, Julie says there have been so many highlights over the years “it has been a privilege to be part of so many people’s lives. As ambulance staff we get to interact with people when they are often at their lowest. People are amazing to let us, complete strangers, into their lives without a second thought.”

Julie has seen plenty of change over the years, played a part in changing the future for women in paramedicine and changed many lives along the way.

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