The professor who is happiest after a long ambulance shift

Sometimes it's the little coincidences that determine your whole life. When he was young and lived in Gothenburg, Christer Axelsson was working in a shop when a friend tipped him off about training as a firefighter. In 1982, the fire department not only put out fires: they were also in charge of the ambulance service, and every two weeks he served as an ambulance paramedic.

"As an ambulance driver, we had more things to do and I liked the contact with patients. It was clear that I was making a difference, and I felt I wanted more knowledge.”

As early as the early 1990s, Christer Axelsson had the opportunity to participate in a study on patients with chest pain in which a treatment for acute myocardial infarction was tested.

“That was a time when I learned a lot. Volvo sponsored us with a car, and as soon as we received an alarm about chest pain, I hurried away with a doctor and an ambulance. “

He had found his new career and more training followed in the 90s. First as a nurse, in 1994, and later also as an anaesthetic nurse, in 1998.

Has always worked clinically

In 2010, he defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Gothenburg. Christer Axelsson's thesis was the first one about prehospital healthcare in Sweden written by a nurse; it concerned mechanical chest compressions in cardiac arrest that occurs outside hospitals.

The following year, he began teaching and researching at the University of Borås. He has continued to work clinically throughout his professional life, something he sees as an absolute necessity for his work.

"It's been 40 years since I first stepped into an ambulance and I've never taken a break. I'm still happiest at the end of a long shift," said Christer Axelsson, smiling so it can be heard through the phone. 

“Working clinically has been very meaningful; for example, for how we have developed our educational programmes. When I work as much as I do as an ambulance nurse or in the assessment car, then I get the opportunity to test what is clinically possible to do outside of the hospital. You can load a lot of equipment into a car, but it has to work in practice as well, on the street or in a patient's home," said Christer Axelsson.

The trend is towards ambulance staff making increasingly advanced assessments of patients’ conditions. It's about using technology and one’s senses.

"We teach our students how to do a very advanced assessment that they can use along with the patient's symptoms. They must be able to come to the hospital with three different possible diagnoses; otherwise, it is easy to lock oneself into one diagnosis.”

Since 1982, prehospital emergency care has developed enormously. The biggest change came in 2005 when the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare required at least one nurse in each ambulance.

Christer Axelsson is part of the research centre known as PreHospen, where he and his colleagues focus on different prehospital areas. These include cardiac arrest treatment, patient safety, emergency assessments, triage, and the epidemiology of various prehospital conditions.

In addition to his professorship at the University of Borås, Christer Axelsson also has a prehospital professorship within Region Västra Götaland. In collaboration with SU Ambulans, PICTA, SU Röntgen, SU IT and Fuji, he is working on a mobile X-ray project where the purpose is the digital transfer of medical data to higher medical competence to facilitate the care of people in the home.

Searched for injured people amongst the rubble

Christer Axelsson emphasises how important and valuable it is and has been for him to have clinical contact with patients. In addition to his usual work, he has also made time to do some more different things. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, he regularly tested hospital staff, and once the vaccination of hospital staff got underway, he and his colleagues were quick to help out. About 3,000 doses have been given by Christer Axelsson.

He also remembers some special overseas assignments. Like the opportunity to ride along in an assessment car in Lisbon, and ambulances in Jerusalem and Catalonia. In the late 1990s, he went to Turkey to help out after an earthquake. They looked for people in the ruins with search groups with dogs.

How does it affect you to be involved in terrible events?

"When a terrible thing has happened, it feels good to be there and do my job. When you have a professional attitude, you feel like you're helping. There is a readiness for action; you have a strategy and you know what to do. For me, that takes over in the situation. You don't get cold and hard, and it's not that you get used to seeing terrible things, but you have professionalism and empathy. Afterwards, I like to talk to colleagues about what has happened; then you can support each other as colleagues.”

A lot of time has passed since his time as a firefighter, but he has continued the habit of regular training. Christer Axelsson, at 66 years old, starts most days by spending 1.5 hours in the gym and he cycles all year round. The days he works in Gothenburg, that 20 km one way from his home in Torslanda to work at Gullbergsvass. 

As a professor, he looks forward to being able to guide the research a little more and preferably through a variety of different methods. How long does he plan to keep working? It depends.

"The plan is to work for a few more years, and then I'll see – if something fun comes up.”


Christer Axelsson 

Christer Axelsson has been a professor at the University of Borås since 2021. In addition to his professorship at the University of Borås, he works for Region Västra Götaland to develop prehospital care in the region.

Evaluation of various strategies to improve outcomes after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest with particular focus on mechanical chest compressions

Tips on excursion destinations by bike
: There is a nice bike path from Hjuvik's ferry station on Hisingen. The road starts at the bathing spot and goes all the way towards Fågelvik. You follow the road and can stop and have a coffee. When the road leaves the sea, you will come upon a hill overlooking the sea and Marstrand.

Preferably motorbikes.

In his spare time:
I exercise a lot. I get up before six in the morning and work out at the gym for 1.5 hours almost every day. In the afternoon, I often go for a long walk and I cycle a lot. I have four different bikes. One old one to cycle to the gym, one mountain bike to cycle in the forest, and two bikes for asphalt.


Read more

Christer Axelsson's Researcher Profile