As part of a first response emergency services team, paramedics are trained to extremely high standards, and required to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council in order to work as a registered paramedic. Registration requires a great deal of extensive training, both academically and practically, often shadowing and assisting in emergency response teams.
Even after a short spell of absence through a period of ill health, paramedics will find themselves three-manning an ambulance service, getting themselves re-acquainted with their professional training through shadowing, as part of the return to work procedures. You’ll be continually learning throughout your career, both in the required ongoing training, and from practical on the job experience.
Every call you attend is a chance to further hone your medical expertise, and put into practice what you learn in theory. Over the past decade, the training to become a paramedic has changed immensely. You used to get into the career through progression.
Starting with passenger transport, then training to become an emergency care assistant, onto become an ambulance technician, and then onto further train and progress to the challenging role of the paramedic. That career entry path has been closed off as part of reform to improve health care. As the first responder to a medical emergency, you will find yourself in a variety of situations, and not everything is going to be traumatic road traffic accidents, cardiac arrests, or third degree burns.
There’s quite a bit of work involved with alcohol related issues, people with mental health problems, drug abuse, and street crime all being part of the norm. If you’ve watched any of the fly-on-the-wall documentaries following an ambulance crew around, you may have noticed that the paramedics are familiar with “regular” clients. Perhaps homeless people looking for a bed in the hospital, drug users overdosing, or alcoholics intoxicated unable to remember where they live.
Members of the public may call 999, or sometimes it can be the people themselves. As a paramedic, you can expect to deal with many cases, involving people from all walks of life, and you will need to be non-judgemental when you treat them. Some can become abusive, sometimes violent and while it should not be a part of the job, alcohol and substance have a lot to answer for. Reports will need to be proficient as each case you deal with will have a transfer needing done, to either hospital staff, or a police officer, and sometimes a police doctor, depending on your own judgement on whether a patient requires medical attention, or if they’re being public nuisance with no health concerns.
The ability to quickly build rapport with patients, put them at ease, diagnose, and treat health problems that can be both life-threatening and non-life threatening will be required. The 999 service and emergency NHS ambulances are “supposed to be” used in the case of life threatening emergencies when a fast response and trained medical professionals can provide life saving treatments. It’s what you go through the education for, but unfortunately, once you’re qualified and into the job, not many qualified paramedics go onto to continue a career in the ambulance service, due to the high physical and emotional demands.
The reason many give for switching careers is due to the amount of red tape surrounding the profession. You have to be prepared to deal with a lot of mundane health problems, mostly nuisances in society on the front line, and there’s far more than that than there is of real emergency situations. Just the one call out where you do save a life makes the hard work, and mundane shouts all worthwhile.
You do need to be resilient with a lot of patience for patients in as a front line emergency services responder. Public perception of what an emergency is and what isn’t categorised as an emergency is something open to individual and professional matter of opinion. With heart disease, symptoms of heartburn, could very well be the onset of more severe heart problems. There will be times when you’re called out to the scene of a suspected heart attack, and find it’s minor symptoms such as heart burn or indigestion. To effectively diagnose conditions, you will be trained to use a number of professional medical tools to give you access to vital patient stats such as blood pressure, respiration rate, and a patients pulse rate. The patients’ vital signs are what paramedics are trained to sustain until they can get people into hospital.
In essence, you’re ambulance is the communities mobile clinic.
All the tools you need are on-board the ambulance for treating everything from minor cuts, to resuscitation using defibrillators. For a paramedic to do their job efficiently, and stabilise a patients vitals, they need to manage the pain aspect. Pain is the hidden enemy and to manage it effectively, you’ll be trained to use over 60 pain management drugs in order to help reduce pain patients are suffering.
As part of wider team of medical professionals, you’ll be in constant communication with dispatchers who will at times instruct you to divert from one call out to a more sinister emergency that comes in. A call from dispatch with a message of “patient not responding” is fairly broad and tells a paramedic little to what they’ll expect on scene. It could mean the patient is unconscious, just unresponsive, or incoherent. You never know the call you’ll be on until you’re in attendance.
With most careers where a requirement to be adaptable is involved, you usually have the versatility to keep the job from being mundane as no two days will be the same. A career as a paramedic, there’s no two call outs going to be the same. One instant, you could be taking someone highly intoxicated with alcohol to a place of safety (hospital, or police station) which is an all too frequent call out for ambulances, whereas other times a not responding call out can quickly change to a cardiac arrest. When that happens the pace of the job will change rapidly, and will often involve more than the one crew.
The one thing paramedics are trained efficiently on is cardiac arrest procedures to get the heart pumping oxygen through the brain as fast as possible in a co-ordinated manner. Work will continue on the patient until their vitals are stabilised, but you have to be emotionally prepared for the situations when someone’s time is up. That will be the job of a senior paramedic to call, however, due to the fast response times and extensive continued training a paramedic goes through, the likelihood of survival is severely increased. Consider the severity of a stroke. For every minute that passes, two million neurons die, so every minute on duty counts.
You need to be trained to degree level in Paramedical Science. To get entry into a training course, you can expect a minimum requirement of five GCSE, including Maths, English, and a Science related subject. Requirements will differ between universities. A thorough understanding of what the job entails will be required for your interview, before you’re accepted on the course. Learn everything you can about what’s expected.
The policies of the Health and Care Professions Council, the CPD elements involved, and ensure that you go into your interview packed full of knowledge about the profession. Be sure you know the roles of each member of the “ambulance services team,” how everyone plays a pivotal role in patient care, and how you as the paramedic slot into the team.
Another aspect you are going to need is an upgrade to your driver’s licence. Due to the categorisations of licences going by vehicle weight, you need to hold a category C1 driving licence, entitling you to drive vehicles up to 7’500 KG. Without holding a C1 driving licence, even after graduating you could find yourself still unemployable with most trusts. Some universities may require you have this as part of their eligibility, but you can find a driving licence is all you require.
Also check with the university you plan on studying with about whether you’ll receive Emergency Response Driver Training, as you may find you have to cover that part of learning yourself. While it’s not a pre-requisite for employment, having blue light driver training will put you in a stronger position for employment.
In terms of which degree you’re best to take; opinions are split. Some will say that a BSc demands more pay. That’s a bit of myth as it can qualify you to a more senior level, but without work experience, it’s of not much use anyway. Foundation courses are enough to get you onto the job, and since continual career development training is mandatory, it’s the best advice to get started.
An FDSE and a DipHE degree will take you two years to complete. A BSc will take three years.
Beyond the above graduate courses, there’s also an expanding number of Masters (MSc) courses available as well as an option to study to PHD level. The practical approach often works best because in this profession, you have an extensive amount of learning to do, and continue learning throughout your career. Starting out with a foundation degree, and then approaching the job market equips you with the practical work experience, to better understand the theory for furthering your academic qualifications for a BSc, and then continue onto a Masters.
If you want to get to a consulting level further in your career, then a doctorate would be required, when you could then go into coaching, or lecturing as a paramedic tutor.
One of the most important aspects employers look for in candidates is work experience.
It’s the dilemma of all careers to get started is finding the first job where you can that relevant work experience. You can find opportunities for volunteering and gaining training with the St Johns Ambulance service, St Andrews Ambulance Service, and as a Volunteer Patient Transport Driver. There is also the opportunity to start working within the NHS or in the private sector as a patient ambulance driver, which gives you direct work experience with both elderly patients and children, both of which is relevant to the work you’ll be doing.
Otherwise, any health related work experience will be beneficial.
The largest employer is by far the National Health Service.
Away from the NHS, there’s also jobs within the private ambulance sector, mainly in larger areas, where hospitals provide contracts to ensure there’s always a sufficient amount of ambulances, and registered paramedics to deal with the demand for service in emergency situations. The armed forces are another employer where medical expertise and fast response will be required.
Positions are advertised for full-time, and part-time paramedics, as well as for temporary relief staff, which you can find are sometimes allocated to specialist health care recruitment firms.