Raeesah Boomgaard rose from graduate Emergency Care Practitioner to Branch Manager of ER24 Johannesburg West in just two years.
To mark Women’s Day 2023, she describes her approach to management and why more women should choose emergency medicine. “Sometimes people walk into the branch asking for the manager, and when I tell them it’s me, they don’t believe me!” says 28-year-old Raeesah Boomgaard.
Given her youth, they could perhaps be forgiven, but this intelligent, fair-minded, and strong-willed woman is leading the way in an often male-dominated environment. And even more importantly, she’s earned the respect of her peers along the way.
However, this is a two-way street and her respect for her peers, in turn, has been equally important in her career trajectory. A no-nonsense attitude may have helped Boomgaard stake her claim in a male-dominated environment, but she understands the importance of allowing colleagues to have their say when on a scene: “It’s easy to believe you know it all because you’ve graduated from the four-year course, but it’s important to acknowledge the contribution your colleagues can bring.”
This mutual respect has endeared her to her peers, so they willingly accept her authority in situations where she must take firm charge. “I let them know that if they have to answer to me, it’s not going to be a joke!”
As it happened, it was Boomgaard’s colleagues who encouraged her to apply for the branch manager position. After joining ER24 as an operations Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedic in 2020, management wasn’t on her radar. However, she’d already built such a great relationship with her peers that when the job became available, they insisted she was the right candidate. “They wanted their new manager to be someone they already knew, rather than a brand-new person,” she explains.
Boomgaard became the Branch Manager of ER24 Johannesburg West in 2022 and has grown into the role since then. Although she’s had some experience managing her Intermediate Life Support medics as an ALS medic, switching to the new role was still a challenge initially. So, is she now at a desk pushing a pen all day? Far from it, Boomgaard still loves working on the road. “There is something about the fluidity of being on the road, the variation and challenges, that appeals to me,” she says.
EMS as a career for women
Despite the increasing influx of women in EMS, it’s still viewed as a male-dominated sector. It’s an industry built with men in mind, says Boomgaard. “There are obvious things like driving around in an ambulance at night, going into dangerous areas, lifting patients, and carrying heavy equipment, which makes EMS come across as designed for men,” she explains.
But the EMS industry is slowly becoming more appealing to women wanting independent career paths, and it’s increasingly being viewed as a viable career option, she says. “This is partly because you’re respected and perceived as an independent and strong person when you work in this industry. Once women realise this, it becomes a much more attractive career path.”
The staff split between men and women at the branch is 50/50 for practical reasons, Boomgaard says, since this allows her to partner her teams as male and female, which is important from a safety perspective.
The EMS sector is becoming more accepting of women, especially in leadership positions like management and ALS roles. She admits there is still some way to go but is confident the industry will become more comfortable for women. “Even when people are resistant, I know as a woman I have a good support structure from ER24, and other women who work with me.”