Indigenous student Josh Harmer is becoming one of the nation’s most sought-after paramedic science undergraduates, yet he was once a victim of racist and homophobic bullying and was told to drop out of high school.
Mr Harmer, 20, lives in Tweed Heads in northern New South Wales, but travels to the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane to study.
From ABC North Coast Photo: Paramedic science student Josh Harmer has been chosen to work with some of America’s leading advanced life support crews in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. (ABC North Coast: Samantha Turnbull)
He will graduate at the end of this semester and hopes to continue studying medicine to eventually become a qualified doctor.
“I’ve always loved helping people, and then I built an interest around cardiology and the heart and why our body functions the way that it does,” he said.
“I set my scope on being a doctor, but I have to have an undergraduate degree, so instead of doing biomedical science I thought I’d do paramedic science.”
In 2015 he was the only student from QUT to be selected to present a lecture at the Peking University in China, and he worked in a Beijing hospital that turned over 15,000 patients per day.
This year he has launched a Gofundme campaign to pay for a trip to the US, after becoming one of eight students selected from hundreds of applicants nationwide to work with advanced life support crews in Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles on a professional development tour in July.
“America is going to be a once-in a lifetime opportunity,” Mr Harmer said.
“I’ll be working with one of the busiest ambulance services in the world, and learn a lot I’m sure with trauma and different emergencies that we don’t often see in Australia.”
Mr Harmer also recently applied to work for the London Ambulance Service and has been accepted for an interview and assessment.
Bullied by teacher and students
But Mr Harmer said as a teenager he was bullied and was once told by a teacher to drop out of school.
“I was told that I was a disgrace to my family and my culture, that I was going to be a no one, and that I may as well sign up to Centrelink now and just continue on with my life that way,” he said.
“It got to the point that I didn’t attend school for two terms because I was that emotionally unstable and didn’t want to be there whatsoever.
“That’s when my family decided to move me to another school.”
I don’t blame anyone for anything. The teacher must have had his reasons. I’ve done enough to prove him wrong, which I’m happy with.Josh Harmer
The Yorta Yorta man said some of the taunts he endured were racist and homophobic.
“For the first part of my life I was seen as the everyday kid because I’m not the darkest-skinned Aboriginal person,” he said.
“But, coming into high school, it became quite troublesome for me.
“I’ve always been a very timid, quiet person and I was bullied quite severely.
“People called me gay, called me a gay coon, and it got to the point where I started believing them.
“They’d pick on me in class, throw things at me, and when I’d turn around and retaliate and say ‘enough is enough’ I was [accused of] disrupting the class, I had to go out and was the bad influence.”
Despite the traumatic experience, Mr Harmer said he did not wish to publicly name the perpetrators or take any further action.
He said if he ever received an ambulance callout to one of the sick or injured bullies, he would treat them no differently to any other patient.
“I don’t blame anyone for anything,” Mr Harmer said. “The teacher must have had his reasons.
“I’ve done enough to prove him wrong, which I’m happy with. My professionalism comes before revenge.”
Grandfatherly advice helps set a new path
Mr Harmer said a change in schools and advice from his grandfather helped him on the path to pursuing his dreams.
“I was very close to my grandfather and I used to go to him crying and he would say, ‘Josh, you can fall down seven times, but you’ve got to stand up eight, you can’t let them win, you deserve better than this’,” he said.
When opportunities come around, grasp them with both hands and absolutely run with it.Josh Harmer
Work experience across the globe has also helped Mr Harmer’s self esteem.
“I’ve had some of the most elite and experienced paramedics work with me and help boost my confidence in a way I didn’t think was possible,” he said.
“I walk with a bigger smile on my face now, I’m a lot more confident.”
Mr Harmer, who said he was a mentor for many young Indigenous people in the Tweed region, offered some words of advice for anyone experiencing bullying or self doubt.
“There’s always sun after a storm and light at the end of a tunnel. Just keep pushing,” he said.
“Set yourself goals of getting through each week, set six-month goals, set 12-month goals, look to the future and don’t sit back and go ‘poor me’.
“When opportunities come around, grasp them with both hands and absolutely run with it.”