Paramedics respond to medical emergencies. As the first healthcare professionals on the scene, they may find themselves dealing with the aftermath of any situation, from a serious road accident or violent assault, to a heart attack or a minor fall.
Trained to a high level, paramedics use their skills and high-tech medical equipment to treat and stabilise patients before transporting them to hospital. The role is a critical one. Effective care at an early stage is vital to a patient's chances of recovery from a serious injury or condition.
A paramedic's duties typically include:
Paramedics also help with more routine transfers where a patient has complex needs.
Ambulances are well equipped. Paramedics use sophisticated equipment, including:
Most paramedics drive conventional ambulances. However, some reach their patients by car, motorcycle or air ambulance. Some city-based ambulance services have paramedics on bicycles to beat the traffic.
Paramedics are usually teamed with ambulance technicians. They also work closely with other medical colleagues and emergency services.
Some paramedics are now taking on an extended role, carrying out more tests and treatment in the community so that patients need not attend hospital.
Paramedics work shifts, totalling around 40 hours a week. This includes some work at nights, weekends and on public holidays. Part-time work is possible.
Emergency calls may take a paramedic to any environment. Though primarily based in their ambulance, paramedics also spend time in hospital units and other healthcare settings. Increasingly, paramedics are working in patients' homes.
Because the job involves constant travel, a driving licence is essential. Some ambulance services require staff to hold a licence to drive heavier vehicles.
Paramedics must be physically fit, to cope with frequent lifting and handling of patients. The nature of the job means working in chaotic or distressing situations and being outdoors in all weathers.
Salaries for qualified paramedics start at £21,000 a year. Check this handy paramedic salary guide.
Around 11,900 paramedics currently work in the UK. Most work for ambulance services in the National Health Service (NHS). Some are employed by the Armed Forces, private hospitals, private ambulance services and a few major industries.
NHS ambulance services are found all over the country. Competition for paramedic posts may be fierce.
Vacancies are advertised in local press or on the ambulance services' own websites. Vacancies can also be found on the NHS Careers website (for England) or through the national ambulance services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There are two main routes to becoming a paramedic.
The most common route at present is to start in a junior role - usually as an ambulance care assistant, working on the routine transport of patients. With further training and experience, it is possible to qualify as an ambulance technician. Some services offer direct entry as a trainee technician. Qualified technicians may then apply to train as paramedics. Ambulance services set their own educational requirements. For entry, they may look for at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. Entrants must also pass a medical examination and have a criminal records check.
A second route is to seek a qualification in paramedical science through a higher education course. A small but increasing number of universities offer approved paramedical science courses. Entry requirements vary. Applicants may need at least two A levels/H grades or equivalent. Some courses are full time, while others are designed for people already employed in an ambulance service. They vary in length from 30 weeks (for a post-technician qualification) to five years in higher education. It is possible to study to certificate, diploma and degree level. On completion of an honours degree, students are able to register as paramedics.
Many people interested in becoming a paramedic might also consider higher education in the form of an Emergency Management degree, which can be taken as an online course from AMC online.
Whatever route is taken, all paramedics must gain registration through the Health Professions Council (HPC). The HPC approves higher education courses for paramedics.
NHS ambulance service employers look for applicants who are physically fit and hold a clean driving licence, often including categories C1 and D1, which allow the holder to drive larger vehicles. Some services will support staff to gain the required level.
Trainee ambulance technicians go through an intensive course of up to 12 weeks. Subjects include:
After gaining up to a year's supervised experience, they must then pass written and practical examinations to qualify as technicians.
Those selected to become paramedics undergo further training, lasting 10 to 12 weeks. This includes work in the classroom and in hospital departments, supervised by senior doctors. Qualification follows a final assessment.
Paramedics have regular training throughout their careers. They must re-qualify every three years. They also carry out regular professional development activities, which are assessed by the HPC.
Once in the job, it may be possible to study part time for a degree in paramedical science.
Paramedics may also carry out further training to take on the new role of emergency care practitioner (ECP). ECPs are equipped to carry out tests and assessments of patients who have long-term or non-acute conditions. This takes place in the patients' homes.
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A paramedic must have:
Increasingly there are fewer boundaries between paramedics and other healthcare workers, such as nurses. This means more opportunities for paramedics to work in hospitals or community healthcare, for example as emergency care practitioners.
Paramedics may also move on to other roles in the ambulance service. They may work in the control room, or take on a training or management job. Many senior ambulance officers are former paramedics.
The College of Paramedics,
28 Wilfred Street, Derby,
Derbyshire DE23 8GF
Tel: 01332 746356
Health Professions Council,
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road,
London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel:0845 60 60 655
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service,
Site 30, Knockbracken Healthcare Park,
Saintfield Road, Belfast BT8 8SG
Tel: 028 9040 0999
Scottish Ambulance Service,
National Headquarters, Tipperlinn Road,
Edinburgh EH10 5UU
Tel: 0131 446 7000. Website: www.scottishambulance.com
The Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust,
HM Stanley Hospital, St Asaph,
Denbighshire LL17 OWA
Tel: 01745 532900
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.