From being an early school leaver to working as a commercial fisherman and lifeguard, Billy Kneale’s pathway to becoming a paramedic was never straightforward. 

But now the Tewantin advanced care paramedic has been named as the recipient of the United Workers Union’s Graduate of the Year Grant at Queensland Ambulance Service’s KJM Patrons Day. 

“After working alongside paramedics while I was a lifeguard at Noosa Main Beach and Sunshine Beach, I felt it was a natural progression if I wanted to challenge myself further,” Billy says. “What drew me to the service was the extra level of care paramedics can give and how calm and professional they are – it’s a bit like looking up to an older brother in a way.” 

Billy grew up on the Coast and left high school early, working from offshore fishing boats off the Cairns coast diving for crayfish and lobster. Later, seeking a greater challenge, he returned to the Coast and became a professional lifeguard, where he still enjoys working casually. 

“I didn’t finish school but realised later I badly wanted be a paramedic, so I had to do a bridging course called a tertiary preparation pathway so I had to do a lot more study to get into paramedicine in 2016,” he says.

Billy graduated from the University of the Sunshine Coast in 2019 and became an advanced care paramedic in November 2020, working at Caloundra Ambulance Station until October, when he moved to Tewantin. 

The $2000 grant goes to a student who has demonstrated exceptional personal and professional leadership qualities. Billy said he felt proud to accept the award. 

“This just highlights early school leavers can get degrees,” he says. “Being a mature student at uni was really a great thing – I wasn’t there to party, I was there to get good grades and I loved learning.

“I think it shows that all the hard work at uni, to not just pass but to excel, pays off and it’s all worth it in the end.” 

Billy says he’s now keen to concentrate on mastering what he’s doing. 

“While I’m keen to continue to gain new skills, I’m also conscious of ensuring I learn to walk before running,” he says. 

“But my partner Zoe (who is also a paramedic at Tewantin) and I would like to head out to work in a rural community at some stage.

“What I enjoy most about my job is the clinical side of it – learning about disease processes and heart attack diagnoses. I’m really interested in the clinical side of paramedicine and physiology knowledge and being able to start to piece together what’s going on with our patients – the problem-solving side of the job. 

“I also love the fact that our job is so different every day.” 

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