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P.O Box 631 Station A
|Established as Toronto's first public college in 1966, Centennial College offers programs in business, communications, community and health studies, science and engineering technology, general arts, hospitality and transportation.|
As part of his Paramedic training program, 24-year-old Abdullah Muhaseen rides with Toronto's paramedics, learning first-hand what the work entails and, bluntly, discovering if he has the stomach for it.
Working out of one of the busiest ambulance stations in Canada, his crew responds to a call every two hours on average. As a student, Muhaseen is eased into the work by running medical calls - such as patients with chest pains - before taking on more serious trauma situations.
Rather than being a passive observer, the ambulance team allows students to interact with the patients, make diagnoses and provide first aid. The professionals step in to assist if the student makes a misstep, says Muhaseen.
"Out on the road it's very stressful, but very exhilarating, too," he says. "Role-playing in the classroom only partly prepares you for what you will experience in real life."
Centennial's popular program is highly disciplined - students are required to be in uniform in class - and practice drills take place constantly.
"It's very competitive. About one-half of the students who begin the program don't make it through to graduation," says Muhaseen. "Being book-smart doesn't always mean you will do well at the accident scene."
Born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, Muhaseen came to Canada with his family at the tender age of one-and-a-half years. But rather than settle in Toronto or another big city, the family went to Kippens, Newfoundland, to live with his uncle, a doctor, while Muhaseen's father attended engineering classes at Memorial University.
"We were the only brown family in the area," recalls Muhaseen with a smile. "When my uncle was sent there in the 1970s to practice medicine as a new immigrant, he was such an unusual sight the local TV station came out to interview him!"
After seven years living on the Rock, Muhaseen's family relocated to Toronto where his father found contract work as an engineer. Muhaseen ended up going to school at Jarvis Collegiate in downtown Toronto.
"I applied to the University of Toronto at Scarborough and pursued double majors in neuroscience and psychology," he says. "But after four years, I realized that it was hard to find a job in the field that wasn't research-based."
Muhaseen was keen to explore other options and remembered that his good friend had completed the Paramedic program at Centennial. He had gotten a well-paying job right after graduation and the work sounded fascinating.
Muhaseen applied to college for two more years of education. He doesn't regret his decision for one minute.
"My first year at Centennial was more difficult intellectually than my four years at the University of Toronto combined. A lot of people - especially parents - don't realize just how demanding college can be."
"At university you can procrastinate and miss a lot of lectures, whereas at college you have to keep on top of your assignments to be at the top of your game," he says. Muhaseen points out that a typical first-year class at university can have 1,500 students in a lecture hall, while at Centennial classes are typically between 30 and 60 participants.
"At college there's a lot of one-on-one time with the professors; they're much more approachable and personable. And they've had experience in the field - some have even won awards for their work."
The appeal of the paramedic profession is multifaceted for Muhaseen. He likes the idea of always being on the go, with each day bringing new challenges and never having to face boredom. It's a dynamic profession that is continually changing due to improved technologies and new ways of delivering health care.
"At one time, paramedics were simply ambulance drivers who took people to the hospital. Today, a paramedic is trained to recognize many things, such as distinguishing between a heart attack and an aneurism, and begin treatment at the scene. You also have to know your pharmacology to recognize what medications your patient is using and what you can administer en route to the hospital."
Centennial's Paramedic program is one of the oldest and best in the province. The college recently added a joint-degree program with the University of Toronto, which immerses students in the profession for two action-packed years. It's the only Paramedicine BSc. degree in Canada.
"The professors have you training and practicing to the point where the work becomes second nature. It has to be when you are working on patients who are on the verge of death."
What do his parents think of his career choice?
"Initially they were hesitant, thinking it was a stepping stone to being a doctor. But as they learned what I was doing and saw the rigour of the program, they've come to realize just how important my work is."
Click here for more information about Centennial College's Paramedic program