If you are wondering how to become a paramedic, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the emergency services, as well as job prospects in the UK.

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

    As an ambulance paramedic you could be dealing with all kinds of emergencies, ranging from minor injuries to serious casualties in a major road or rail accident. Your primary goal would be to meet people’s immediate needs for care or treatment.

    Typical responsibilities:

    assess a patient’s condition
    decide on the appropriate course of action based on clinical need
    make quick decisions about moving the patient
    use advanced life support techniques, such as electric shocks (defibrillation) to resuscitate patients
    carry out certain surgical procedures, such as intubation (inserting a test tube into the throat)
    use advanced airway devices to keep the airway open
    use intra-venous fluid therapy and drug therapy
    administer medicines and giving injections
    dress wounds and applying splints.
    You would also be responsible for checking the efficiency of the vehicle and on-board equipment. Accurate record keeping is also an essential part of the job.

    The emergency ambulance service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You would be trained in advanced driving skills and work on traditional ambulances and other rapid response units including cars and motorcycles. You could also work as part of a helicopter ambulance crew.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good paramedics include:

    an interest in the care and well-being of patients
    an awareness of equality and diversity and the differing needs of people in the community
    the ability to deal with life and death situations and stay calm when working under pressure
    a steady hand to carry out emergency treatment
    a strong sense of responsibility and a serious attitude to work
    excellent communication and interpersonal skills
    the ability to work well in a team, use your initiative and make decisions quickly
    leadership skills
    good organisational skills
    physical and emotional stamina
    excellent driving skills.

    How to become an ambulance paramedic
    To work as a paramedic you must be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC). To apply for enrolment on the register you need to complete an approved qualification and period of clinical training with an ambulance service. The HPC holds details of approved training providers (see Further Information).

    There are two routes leading to registration as a paramedic.

    Higher education, direct-entry route
    Eleven universities offer HPC approved courses leading to a foundation degree, Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) or degree in paramedic science (including clinical practice).

    Entry requirements will vary depending on the qualification you wish to achieve, but will usually include:

    five GCSEs (A-C) in English, maths and science
    between one and three A levels including a life science or natural science.
    Please check with universities for exact entry details because alternatives, such as a relevant Access to Higher Education qualification, may also be accepted.

    Traditional work-based route
    This route involves joining the ambulance service as an ambulance care assistant (some services may allow entry at technician level). When you have gained experience and promotion to ambulance technician, you may be able to apply through open competition for a place on paramedic training (leading to the Institute of Health Care Development qualification).

    This option is becoming increasingly difficult to find as ambulance services throughout the UK are carrying out a major work force review. The role of ambulance technician will be phased out during 2007 and 2008, as the new emergency care assistant role is introduced. Many services are now prefering to recruit paramedics through the higher education route. You should contact your local ambulance service for further advice (the Ambulance Service Association has a list on their website).

    General requirements
    You will need to meet some basic conditions set by the ambulance service, whichever route you choose. You will need:

    to be at least age 18 (21 in some services)
    a good general standard of education
    the ability to pass a series of recruitment tests
    to have a medical test, and show you are physically able to do the job.
    Driving – you will also need a full manual driving licence for at least one year. If you passed your driving test after 1996, you will need an extra driving qualification (known as C1 and D1) which will allow you to drive passenger carrying, medium sized vehicles over 3.5 tonnes. Some ambulance services may support you through this extra driving qualification, however, this is not standard practice.

    All ambulance services conduct a CRB police check.

    Training and Development
    Higher education route
    If you choose to become a paramedic in this way, your training will usually involve:

    a combination of technical and work-related tasks
    attending university full-time during the first year, and one day a week for the following two or three years
    working as an ambulance technician earning a salary.
    Part-time programmes take between two and five years to complete and are usually only open to practising paramedics who wish to achieve a qualification.

    Traditional route
    To become a registered paramedic through this route, you will usually need at least one year’s experience as a fully qualified ambulance technician. You can then apply, through open competition, for paramedic training. Once accepted you will follow an intensive course lasting 10-12 weeks, which leads to the Institute of Health Care Development (IHCD) qualification.

    On the course you will gain experience in a range of hospital departments, including the operating theatre, coronary care unit, and accident and emergency. You will also study areas such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and advanced patient assessment. When you pass all the assessments, you qualify as a paramedic and can apply for registration with the HPC.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Paramedics can earn between £19,100 and £24,800 a year.

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

    Job Prospects
    You will most opportunities to train and work within the NHS, although you could also work in the armed forces or private ambulance services.

    As a paramedic you will increasingly find job opportunities within the community, for example with GPs and practice nurses, caring for patients in the surgery and visiting them at home.

    With experience you may be able to progress into the role of emergency care practitioner (ECP). This involves using advanced skills in injury assessment, diagnosis and wound care to provide on the spot treatment in the community. ECPs work in a variety of settings such as the patients own home and minor injuries units. You will often need several years’ experience and additional training, such as a BSc Hons in Emergency Care, in order to apply for this post.

    Some ambulance services provide experienced and highly motivated paramedics with the opportunity to train as helicopter ambulance crews. You may also be able to work on car or motorcycle rapid response units.

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

    Useful emergency services resources:
    British Paramedic Association
    28 Wilfred Street
    DE23 8GF
    Tel: 01332 746 356

    Ambulance Service Association
    Capital Tower
    91 Waterloo Road
    SE1 8RT
    Tel: 020 7928 9620

    Recent Articles


    Related Stories

    Stay on op - Ge the daily news in your inbox