Ambulance Paramedic

The Job and What's Involved

Ambulance paramedics deal with medical emergencies, as well as complex non-emergency hospital admissions, discharges and transfers. They usually work as part of a rapid response team, with support from an ambulance technician or emergency care assistant.

As a paramedic, you could face situations ranging from minor injuries to serious casualties in a major road or rail accident. Your aim would be to meet people's immediate needs for care or treatment.

When responding to a call, you would assess a patient's condition and decide on an appropriate course of action. Your duties may also include:

  • Making quick decisions about moving the patient.
  • Using advanced life support techniques, such as electric shocks (defibrillation) to resuscitate patients.
  • Carrying out surgical procedures, such as intubation (inserting a breathing tube into the throat).
  • Using advanced airway devices to keep the airway open.
  • Using intravenous fluid therapy and drug therapy.
  • Administering medicines and giving injections.
  • Dressing wounds and applying splints.

Day-to-day routine tasks include accurate record keeping and vehicle and on-board equipment checks.

You could work on a traditional ambulance or alone using a car, motorbike or bicycle. With experience you could work within a helicopter ambulance team.

The emergency ambulance service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You would typically work 37.5 hours a week, including a rotation of night and weekend shifts and bank holidays. Part-time hours are often also available.

You would wear a uniform, which includes protective clothing such as a bright jacket, safety boots and, in some services, a stab proof vest. Your work may involve heavy lifting, when transferring patients.

You are likely to face some difficult situations as a paramedic, including emotionally distressed patients and aggression from people under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Student paramedics may be paid around £15,500 to £18,600 a year. Qualified paramedics can earn around £21,200 to £27,500. ECPs and team leaders can earn up to £34,200.
Area managers may earn around £40,200.

Additional allowances may be paid to staff in certain parts of the country, those working on standby or on rotational shift patterns.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You will find most jobs within the NHS, although you could work in the armed forces or private ambulance services.

In some ambulance services you may be able to train as part of a helicopter ambulance crew, or use a car or motorcycle rapid response unit.

Education and Training

You need to be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC) before you can work unsupervised as a paramedic.

To get on to the register you need to complete an HPC approved qualification and a period of clinical training with an ambulance service.

There are two ways you can work towards HPC registration:

By taking a Certificate of Higher Education, foundation degree, Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) or degree in paramedic emergency care (other subject titles may also be used)

By securing a student paramedic job with an Ambulance Trust and studying whilst learning on the job (see the NHS Jobs website for vacancies).

To get on to a course, you will usually need five GCSE's (A-C) including English, maths and science, and between one and three A levels, often including a science. Check with course providers (listed on the HPC website) for exact details because alternative qualifications, such as an Access to Higher Education course, may also be accepted.

For a student paramedic job, requirements can vary but in general you will need:

Four or five GCSE's (A-C) including English, maths and science,


Around 12 months experience as an Ambulance Care Assistant, technician or ECA, plus evidence you can study at higher education level (some employers prefer candidates with Open University 'Openings' course credits, which teaches research and study skills).

For further advice, contact your local ambulance service (listed on the NHS Choices website).

Whichever route you choose you will need to meet some basic conditions, including:

Excellent driving skills and a thorough knowledge of the highway code.

Good fitness levels and good eyesight (prescription glasses are acceptable).

Experience of dealing with the public, ideally within a caring role (paid or voluntary).

A good understanding of the nature of ambulance work.

You will also need a C1 category driving licence with no more than 3 penalty points. You may be accepted with a provisional C1 licence, but you will need a full licence before you start working. Some ambulance services may support you through this extra driving qualification, however, this is not standard practice. You must be at least age 18 to apply for a C1 licence.

You will also need Criminal Records Bureau clearance.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

If you are training as a paramedic by taking a foundation degree, DipHE or degree, you will attend university on a full-time or part-time basis, over a period of between two and five years, depending on how you have chosen to study. During this time, you will also be attached to an ambulance service and work under supervision alongside qualified paramedics.

Alternatively, if you join the ambulance service in a student paramedic post, there will be a greater emphasis on training on the job. However, you will also work towards a qualification such as the Institute of Health Care Development (IHCD) Paramedic Award or a foundation degree in paramedic science. You will have regular performance reviews and assessments over a three year period, leading to registration with the HPC.

Once you have completed an approved qualification and registered with the HPC as a paramedic, you will need to continue to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. The British Paramedic Association (BPA) has developed an online CPD (continuing professional development) scheme for its members, which satisfies the HPC requirements for registration renewal.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An ambulance paramedic needs:

  • A genuine desire to help and care for others.
  • An awareness of equality and diversity and the differing needs of people in the community.
  • Good spoken and written communication skills.
  • Clear judgement and decision making skills even when faced with life and death situations.
  • Practical skills with the ability to carry out emergency procedures.
  • Good team working skills.
  • The ability to use your initiative and make decisions quickly.
  • Leadership skills and a strong sense of responsibility.
  • The ability to manage, organise and respond to a changing workload.
  • Physical and emotional stamina.
  • The ability to use communication and computerised systems.
  • A good understanding of patient confidentiality.
  • The ability to drive under emergency 'blue light' conditions.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience you could apply for an emergency care practitioner (ECP) post. This would involve working as a solo responder, providing emergency and non-emergency care to patients in the community and local minor injuries units. You would use advanced skills in injury assessment, diagnosis and wound care to provide on-the-spot treatment.

To apply for an ECP post, you will usually need around three years' experience as a qualified paramedic plus additional training, such as a BSc (Hons) in Emergency Care.

You may also progress into areas such as operational management, education and training, research or human resources.

Get Further Information

Health Professions Council,
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

NHS Careers, PO Box 376, Bristol BS99 3EY
Tel: 0345 60 60 655

College of Paramedics,
The Exchange, Express Park
Bristol Road, Bridgwater TA6 4RR
Tel: 01 278 420014

Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150850
Website: https://nationalcareersservice

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