Bill Parkinson seems to always be in motion. Observing him sitting five feet away, the energy is visible from his constantly tapping toes to the enthusiasm in his features as he thoughtfully chooses his words.
Parkinson retired as an attorney with the justice department in 2009, but he has no plans to spend his days in a rocking chair on the front porch. Education opened the door to a new career.
His Brookhaven College experience started several years before his retirement, when Parkinson enrolled in the EMT program. But the story goes back further.
Growing up, he lived in a small town in upstate New York that had no emergency medical transportation services and his parents were involved in the volunteer ambulance service that served the community. It was that experience that exposed him to emergency medicine, but he said it was not what prompted him to enroll in the program at Brookhaven.
“I have been involved in martial arts for 20 years,” said Parkinson, who holds a black belt in taekwondo. “In a tournament in 2005 or 2006, I saw a kid go out from a brutal kick and there was no medical staff onsite. I thought if I’m going to be around such things, I should learn.”
Initially he selected Brookhaven College because it was convenient and offered an EMT program, then after he retired, he decided to check out the paramedic program.
“Since I had been in the EMT program at Brookhaven, and I know the folks involved, it seemed like a credible program,” he said adding that there may have been another factor that contributed to his decision to return to Brookhaven.
He said years before when he signed up for the EMT program, he was asked about the last time he’d taken a math or algebra class. His answer to the question was “1969.” But he accepted the challenge, albeit reluctantly, found math help online and prepared himself.
When considering his choices for a paramedic program, “I thought since I already passed the math at Brookhaven, I might as well stay there and not have to take the math test again.”
So, with the math issue put to rest, he was ready to move forward. But he left the all-day orientation wondering what he’d gotten himself into. Although he’d completed the EMT training, he had never really done anything with it, and the newly-trained EMT’s coming into the paramedic program were better prepared. “I had a psychological disadvantage.”
He said the paramedic program was the most intense learning experience he has ever had. It was a steep learning curve, but Parkinson graduated as valedictorian of his class.
After graduation, he went to work for Medstar, a private ambulance service in Fort Worth. He started there in 2010 and after two years he shifted from full-time to part-time. With a flexible schedule, he can work when he wants and pick who he wants to work with. He is also involved with skills testing and consults on the hiring panel at Medstar.
“The hardest part of going part-time was giving up my partner. It was never work. It was fun doing a serious job,” he said. “I can’t explain why I like working there so much, I just do. I’ve met some of the finest people I have ever known.”
Parkinson has witnessed unimaginable poverty and terrible scenes that most people are unlikely to encounter in everyday life. And if you ask him why he chose to be a paramedic, he will tell you that he asks himself that same question when he looks in the mirror at 4:45 in the morning getting ready for a 6:45 a.m. shift. But that’s the short answer.
“I’ve gotten to see a lot I would have never seen from the ivory tower I worked at,” he said. “When someone says they could never do what I do – I tell them people can do more than they think they can when they have to.”
The thing he misses most about his change from law to medicine is the trial work, but said he’s had more fun doing his job as a paramedic than he ever imagined he would.
“I retired from my job and got a real job,” he said. “If you sit still you will wither away and you really don’t know what’s out there until you are in it.”
Not one for sitting still, Parkinson enjoys woodworking, playing and refereeing hockey, martial arts, playing guitar and traveling with his wife Beth.
NOTES: “When I called my dad who is an engineer and told him I had to have a math class, his response was, ‘well, so much for EMT.’” Parkinson said his father knows him pretty well and his math skills. But he found math help online and prepared himself.