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What does a paramedic do?
A paramedic is sometimes also known as an emergency worker. They are registered healthcare professionals who respond to emergencies and provide life-saving treatment and care to injured or ill people. They also carry out non-emergency work and deal with minor injuries and illnesses.
Paramedics usually work from a base and respond to emergency 999 calls in an ambulance. Typically, they are part of a two-person crew team supported by an ambulance technician or emergency care assistant. Paramedics can also attend calls on their own and travel to call-outs in an emergency response car or on a motorbike or bicycle. They can also remain in a control room to provide advice over the telephone.
Paramedics will usually be the first healthcare professional on the scene. They will have many different duties, including assessing and treating patients, using technical equipment, administering drugs and transporting patients to the hospital or a care facility for further assessment and treatment. The role can also have an element of administrative work, such as typing up case notes and reports.
A paramedic’s main aim is to preserve a person’s life and prevent their illness or injury from worsening until they receive further treatment at a hospital. They also provide support and guidance to relatives, friends and members of the public. Overall, being a paramedic is about saving lives and improving outcomes for patients who need medical help.
Paramedics will be required to work closely with their colleagues, e.g. fellow paramedics, emergency care assistants or technicians. They may also need to liaise with other external stakeholders, including the fire and rescue service, the police, the coastguard, doctors, nurses, specialists, GPs, other healthcare teams, patients, families, friends and the public.
Usually, paramedics work for large organisations, e.g. the Ambulance Services Trust or the armed forces. They can also work for smaller companies, such as air ambulance charities and private ambulance services.
Being a paramedic is a critical role, and they will have many different responsibilities, which may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Responding to emergency 999 and non-emergency calls.
- Assessing situations on arrival and liaising with others on the scene, e.g. the police.
- Evaluating a patient’s condition and deciding if they should be treated at the scene or transported to the hospital.
- Resuscitating patients.
- Stabilising patients as quickly and calmly as possible.
- Monitoring a patient’s condition and interpreting data on equipment.
- Using various high-tech specialist equipment, e.g. defibrillators, spinal and traction splints and ventilators.
- Administering medication, oxygen, intravenous drips and injections to patients.
- Dressing wounds and injuries.
- Assisting in the delivery of babies.
- Driving ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
- Transporting patients safely to the hospital whilst providing treatment.
- Maintaining, cleaning, decontaminating and checking vehicles, equipment and supplies.
- Keeping accurate notes and records.
- Working with other emergency services, e.g. the police and fire and rescue service.
- Liaising and giving reassurance to patients, family members, friends and members of the public.
- Informing doctors and nurses of the situation and the patient’s condition/treatment on arrival at the hospital.
- Providing patient care in hospitals and other medical facilities.
- Supervising and supporting student paramedics and other new staff.
- Maintaining patient confidentiality at all times.
A paramedic can expect to work around 36–38 hours a week, but they can do more hours depending on the requirements of their role, e.g. if required to be on-call.
No two days are the same for a paramedic, and it is not a 9–5 job. The role often requires paramedics to work unsociable hours, e.g. early starts, evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. It also involves shift work, as the emergency ambulance service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Flexible working is possible for paramedics, e.g. part-time hours or a job share.
Travel is necessary for paramedics, and they will be required to attend call-outs around their designated region. There may be a requirement to cover for paramedics in other areas. The role is unlikely to include overseas work.
The shifts can be quite long and up to 12 hours a day in some cases. Most of this time will require paramedics to be on their feet, so they must have a certain fitness level. Often, a shift will end a distance away from the base, extending the working day.
What to expect
It is not easy being a paramedic. However, providing care and life-saving treatment and helping those with injuries or ill-health is extremely rewarding and satisfying. Paramedics can go home at the end of the working day knowing they have made a difference to patients and their families and friends. If an individual receives prompt medical treatment, it will also have a positive societal impact. If they make a good recovery, it will mean less burden on the NHS.
There is no shortage of paramedic (and related) roles, and there are jobs available nationally. The salary for a paramedic is also good when compared to other jobs, even at entry-level. However, it does reflect the level of education, training and commitment needed.
Boredom will never be a problem for paramedics, as their work is very varied. They can work in various locations and with many different people. One day may involve attending a mother in labour; the next may involve a life-saving situation. The role enables paramedics to travel around their region and be outdoors every day. There may also be opportunities to travel further afield and explore some new areas.
Even though being a paramedic is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:
- Complex and high-pressured situations – each call-out will be different. Paramedics will need to be capable of making critical decisions, sometimes in pressured situations and challenging environments. If an individual is indecisive, it can cost lives. Prospective paramedics should be aware that there can be life or death decisions, e.g. if a casualty is in cardiac arrest or anaphylactic shock.
- Challenging scenes – some scenes will be distressing for paramedics. There may be accidents or incidents where there are fatalities, and there may be blood, vomit, burns, broken bones and other unpleasant sights. Babies and young children may also be involved, which can be too much for some people. If an individual cannot cope with distressing scenes or is squeamish, being a paramedic would not be the right career path.
- Work-related violence – unfortunately, paramedics do face the risk of violence as part of their job (verbal and physical abuse). It is usually due to alcohol and drug-related call-outs, but people can also lash out when in pain or distress. Employers have a duty to reduce and manage the risk of work-related violence, so there are ways of prevention. However, paramedics must be aware of the risk.
There are pros and cons in every career choice, and prospective paramedics must know what to expect before deciding whether the role is for them. There is no doubt that working in emergencies and with distressed people is challenging and stressful. It is also physically and mentally demanding, the hours are long and unsociable, and there are health and safety risks associated with the role. However, there are many positives too and saving lives and helping people is why individuals enter the profession.
When considering whether to be a paramedic, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a paramedic
Being a paramedic can be incredibly stressful, and they will see people who are ill or have injuries, some of which can be serious. It takes the right person with certain personal qualities and strength of character to be a paramedic. They will have to be comfortable in making decisions in life-threatening situations.
Some of the personal qualities that a paramedic requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Knowledge of healthcare and medicine and associated legislation.
- Knowledge of health and safety risks.
- Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and GDPR.
- Having a caring attitude, sensitivity, empathy and understanding.
- Having confidence and a reassuring manner.
- Excellent interpersonal skills, i.e. the ability to deal with patients, families, members of the public, and other external bodies.
- Good communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Good customer services skills.
- Excellent critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills, even in an emergency.
- Strong driving and navigational skills to drive an ambulance in an emergency.
- Good listening skills and the ability to give and follow instructions.
- Good organisational and leadership skills.
- Good listening skills and the ability to understand and follow instructions.
- Good organisational and leadership skills.
- Being motivated and committed to helping people.
- Being thorough and having attention to detail.
- The ability to assess situations and work quickly and carefully.
- The ability to work both in a team and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to be resilient in emotionally demanding situations and with unpleasant scenes.
- The ability to follow procedures.
- The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful, unknown and unpredictable situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment and software competently.
- The ability to work with and maintain different equipment and machinery.
- The ability to work in a physically demanding role, e.g. lifting patients and heavy equipment.
To become a paramedic, individuals need a paramedic science undergraduate degree recognised by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which takes three years, full time. To be accepted on to a degree course usually requires two or three relevant A levels (or equivalent). The exact entry requirements will be set by universities, so these should be checked before applying.
Enrolling on an appropriate degree programme is the main route to become a paramedic, but there is an opportunity to apply for a paramedic degree apprenticeship or student programme. Even though there are no set entry requirements, individuals should have 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels (or equivalent) to help them enrol on to a degree apprenticeship, as it is very competitive. Apprenticeship programmes are on NHS Jobs or individual Ambulance Services Trusts. These websites will detail individual entry requirements.
Individuals who already have an undergraduate degree in a healthcare profession and the relevant experience, such as a nurse or midwife, can enrol on a master’s degree in paramedic science. The course usually takes two years, full time. Completing a master’s approved by the HCPC can help individuals gain registration as a paramedic.
On successful completion of an approved qualification in paramedic science, individuals must register with the HCPC to practise, which must be renewed every two years.
On the job training and volunteering
To become a registered paramedic, individuals will require a degree, as mentioned. However, other options can help towards becoming a paramedic, for example:
- Training schemes – it is possible to begin as an ambulance care assistant. As an individual gains more experience, they may apply to enrol on a paramedic training scheme. As a student paramedic, an individual can undertake their degree whilst on the job.
- Volunteering – gaining practical experience through volunteering can help towards becoming a paramedic. An individual can volunteer as a first responder with a charity, such as the British Red Cross or St John Ambulance. Alternatively, there may be an opportunity to volunteer for the NHS Ambulance Services Trust or a residential care home.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help paramedics enter the profession, enhance their employability and keep their knowledge and skills current.
Most colleges and accredited private training providers provide training courses. Some examples of relevant courses that may be useful for paramedics include:
- First aid.
- Primary and urgent care.
- Administering medication.
- Infection control.
- Needles and sharps.
- Mental health.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Health and safety, e.g. manual handling, violence and hazardous substances.
Professional bodies and associations, such as the HCPC and the College of Paramedics, can also advise on reputable training courses and provide events to help paramedics and give them the means to continue their professional development. Continuing professional development (CPD) is a requirement for HCPC registration.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the CPD requirements for registration. As well as looking on professional body websites, it is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training courses required for paramedics and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs can be found on NHS Jobs and other job sites, such as Indeed.
Having more relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for paramedics. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement under legislation, and it keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
Criminal records checks
Paramedics will be required to undergo an enhanced criminal record check, as they may come into contact with children and vulnerable adults. Having a criminal record, caution, warning, or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, they should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the paramedic role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
As paramedics will be required to drive ambulances as part of their role, a full clean driving licence is essential. An additional driving qualification may be necessary to carry passengers and drive larger vehicles, such as a category C1.
A medical examination is also required to drive ambulances if an individual passed their driving test on or after 1 January 1997.
Individuals will need to check they have the correct licence classifications, as paramedics may be required to drive vehicles of various sizes. The necessary licences will usually need to be in place by the time a paramedic completes their training.
Paramedics will usually be required to undertake a fitness assessment and occupational health assessment.
Where do paramedics work?
Most paramedics will be based at a local ambulance station waiting to respond to emergency calls. They will then travel in an ambulance (in all types of weather) to casualties and provide treatment on scene/in the ambulance and may need to take patients to the hospital. Not all paramedics work in this type of situation. Some will work in a variety of locations, such as:
They will work in a variety of food establishments, such as:
- Outdoor public events, e.g. festivals, sporting events and concerts.
- Helicopters, e.g. the Air Ambulance.
- Offshore, e.g. oil-drilling platforms.
- Cruise, rescue and military ships.
- Policy custody suites.
- Media, film and TV sets.
- Communities and people’s homes.
- Business premises.
- Hospitals, walk-in centres and GPs surgeries.
- Residential care homes and hospices.
- Offices and their own home, e.g. 111 clinical advisors and researchers.
Most paramedics work for the Ambulance Services NHS Trust. However, they can also work for other organisations, such as private ambulance services, the armed forces, the HM Prison Service and charities (e.g. St John Ambulance and the Air Ambulance). There are opportunities for some paramedics to work overseas.
Paramedics can expect to work in all types of weather. They will be required to wear a uniform and personal protective equipment, such as high-visibility clothing and safety footwear.
How much do paramedics earn?
If a paramedic decides to work for the NHS, there will be a band pay system, for example (these are a guide only and is subject to change):
- Entry-level paramedics (band 5) – between £25,655 and £31,534.
- More experienced paramedics (band 6) – between £32,306 and £39,027.
- Consultant paramedics (band 8c) – between £65,664 and £75,874.
The exact salaries for paramedics will depend on the role, the location and how many years of experience they have. The more experience an individual has, the higher their pay rate. Further information regarding the NHS band pay system is on their website. The NHS also provide a training salary for trainees (known as annex 21).
There is potential for paramedics to earn more if they work in other industries, e.g. oil and gas, and for private ambulance services.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this, but it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of paramedic roles to specialise in
There are many different types of roles paramedics can specialise in, for example:
- Air ambulance paramedic – attends emergency call-outs in a helicopter. As well as carrying out the responsibilities of a paramedic, they will need to have specialist knowledge of doctor-led procedures, such as open chest surgery, surgical chest drainage and surgical airways.
- Event paramedic – works specifically at events, such as festivals, film and TV sets, sporting events and concerts.
- Seafarer paramedic – works on ships, i.e. cruise, military, rescue or coastguard.
- Offshore paramedic (medic) – provides medical attention and emergency care to offshore workers.
- Paramedic practitioner – works with and supports community health care and GPs. They provide independent care without the need for a doctor to intervene. They report back to the GP.
- Senior paramedic team leader (SPTL) – involves managing, supporting and developing clinical standards, patient care and a team of paramedics.
- Advanced paramedic – responsible for a team of senior paramedics. They coordinate and provide clinical advice for more complex incidents. A master’s degree is usually required.
- Consultant paramedic – has a high level of experience, clinical knowledge and skills. They provide clinical leadership and guidance to other clinicians. A doctorate is usually required.
The College of Paramedics has further information on the different paramedic roles available, as there are far too many to mention here.
All different paramedic roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. However, most paramedics will need to know how to respond to emergencies, assess and decide on the treatment required, resuscitate and stabilise patients, administer medication, transport the patient to the hospital, etc.
Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for in a paramedic and the type of work a paramedic wants to carry out. Further qualifications and specific training will be necessary for specialised roles.
If paramedics do not carry out their role effectively, it can result in costly delays, a patient’s condition worsening and may even cost lives. Therefore, whatever the type of role a paramedic has, they must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not carry out techniques or treatments if they have not been trained and are not competent.
Standards, live-saving techniques, treatments and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, paramedics need to keep abreast with the latest developments and changes in legislation to remain legally compliant and ensure they carry out their roles effectively and safely.
CPD gives paramedics the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them stay registered with the HCPC as a paramedic and allows them to progress their career, e.g. leading to a senior position, such as an advanced paramedic.
Joining a professional body can help prospective and current paramedics enhance their skills and overall career. The College of Paramedics offers different levels of membership, CPD and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression within the industry. With more qualifications and experience, a paramedic can become an advanced paramedic and even a consultant. They can also decide to focus on a specific field or location, such as events or with the Air Ambulance. Alternatively, they may decide to work in an office or at home as a clinical advisor or assessor.
Having the knowledge, skills and experience can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a paramedic may want to work in education and training, operations management or research. They may want to work in other areas of healthcare, e.g. nursing.