Paramedics are often the first point of contact for anyone suffering from a medical emergency, whether in the case of a sudden onset of illness or in a serious accident – and increasingly for patients with other urgent and unplanned health and social needs.
As they are called out to deal with so many different types of incident, paramedics need to be able to provide emergency assessment, treatment and referral, as well as keeping patients calm on their journey to hospital. In fact, for many patients – whether as part of an emergency episode or a non-emergency call – paramedics will assess, diagnose, treat and refer to other specialists where required, all in the patient’s home.
While most of us are familiar with the image of paramedics working in the Ambulance Service, today’s paramedics also work in a variety of different settings. They may work in a control room or telephone contact centre for 111 or 999, as part of a helicopter crew or even in a GP practice or a minor injuries unit. Paramedics also work in the British Military Forces, both as reservists and full-time.
While paramedics often work under very stressful conditions, this is also a rewarding and varied role that is constantly developing and becoming more visible throughout our healthcare system.
To become a paramedic you will need to go to university to get either a foundation degree, a BSc or BSc Honours degree in Paramedic Science or Paramedic Practice.
It is worth noting that the entry point to the paramedic profession is likely to be moved to BSc Honours level from 2020.
There are also opportunities to progress into working as a paramedic from other related roles, such as joining as a healthcare assistant and progressing to become a paramedic while working at the same time in an ambulance trust.
In terms of skills, it is important to be compassionate and caring as well as being resilient and able to work long hours, often under stressful conditions.
The College of Paramedics has set out a clear career pathway for paramedics working in the ambulance service. This involves entering into the register as a graduate paramedic, before progressing into specialist paramedic practice either in critical care, primary care or in telephone triage.
You then have the opportunity to move into advance level practice or consultant-level practice with a Master’s degree, PhD or similar academic qualification. Some senior paramedics go on to become Clinical Directors of Service or Executive Directors of Clinical Services, or take on strategic roles for organisations such as the Department of Health, NHS England or the College of Paramedics.
There are also many opportunities in the private sector, such as working in Search and Rescue, primary care in GP practices, or within the wider NHS in acute hospitals and urgent treatment centres.
It’s important to keep in mind that being a paramedic isn’t just about heroism: there’s a lot of hard work, study and care that goes into making the role successful.
Talk to your local ambulance service about career opportunities and consider volunteering with organisations like St John Ambulance service or the British Red Cross. This could be a good way of getting some hands on experience of first aid and deciding whether this would be a good role for you.
It’s also worth considering the British Military - paramedics are employed in the Royal Air Force and the British Army, and paramedics always make very welcome Reserve Forces recruits.
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