When Blair Bigham was a lifeguard in high school, he saved someone from drowning.
He became an ambulance paramedic, then, in 2006, a flight paramedic on helicopters. He was saving people, at least getting them to the surgery. He kept that job part time while obtaining his master of science in resuscitation and next, his medical degree.
He was one of 193 new physicians to graduate from the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine in May.
Bigham has enjoyed his work for ORNGE, the Ontario air ambulance service, and found it complemented his experiences as a medical student.
"The best part of being a flight paramedic is circling accident scenes as you're on final approach and seeing all the lights of the ambulances and firetrucks and police cars from your 2,000-foot view, and coming in and getting right close up to the patient and actually jumping into the car," said Bigham.
He said for anybody who likes acute care medicine, working on the air ambulance with the "sickest of the sick" is fascinating, and that sometimes he is "literally going from the helicopter straight to the operating room and as you move the person onto the table, the surgeon is cutting."
The Scarborough native wanted to expand his length of interaction with patients from the operating room.
"As paramedics we only see people for a short period of time and we never find out what happens to them. I wanted to know what happened to them and be more involved in their care."
He chose McMaster for problem-based learning, the fact that it is a three-year program, and because he knew people who attended and spoke very highly of it. International work stood out for him, and he spent a month in Uganda and a month in Nepal doing emergency medicine.
He is staying at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine for a residency in emergency medicine at the Hamilton hospitals, and hopes to follow up with a fellowship in the intensive care unit.
"Being a paramedic is a fabulous job. Being a doctor will be even better."