Paramedics work in rapid response ambulance units to deal with medical emergencies. Such emergencies may include minor injuries, sudden illness, and casualties arising from road and rail accidents, criminal violence, fires and other incidents. Paramedics are usually the first senior healthcare professionals on the scene and they assess the patient’s condition and initiate specialist medical treatment and care before admission to hospital.
The primary goal of paramedics is to meet people’s immediate treatment needs. They resuscitate and stabilise patients by using advanced life support techniques, administer drips, drugs and oxygen, and apply splints, and also assist with complex hospital transfers.
Typical work activities
Paramedics deal with a wide range of patients who may be suffering from a variety of complaints. The response of a paramedic may vary but typical work activities include:
- responding to 999 calls for medical assistance at accidents, emergencies and other related incidents, usually in an ambulance with an ambulance technician to assist;
- assessing the condition of patients who are injured or taken ill suddenly;
- deciding what action is needed and initiating treatment;
- applying splints to limbs, dressing wounds, administering pain relief, oxygen, drips and fluids;
- using various kinds of equipment, including ventilators to assist breathing and defibrillators to treat heart failure, in order to resuscitate and stabilise patients;
- carrying out certain surgical procedures when necessary, such as intubation (insertion of a breathing tube);
- monitoring the patient’s condition using high-tech equipment;
- assessing whether and how to move patients;
- liaising with members of other emergency services, such as the police or fire brigade;
- dealing with members of the public and family members present at the scene;
- treating patients in the ambulance while they are being transferred to hospital from the scene, or between hospitals in the case of patients being moved to receive specialist care;
- driving and crewing an ambulance or other rapid response vehicle;
- cleaning, decontaminating and checking vehicles and equipment to maintain a state of operational readiness;
- assisting with patient care in hospitals or health care centres;
- writing up case notes and reporting the patient’s history, condition and treatment to relevant hospital staff.
The minimum qualification required for entry in the field of paramedics is a diploma in higher education in paramedical science, but many paramedic courses are now offered at a BSc level.
Over 20 UK universities offer a range of paramedical qualifications at foundation degree, diploma and BSc degree level. These can be taken on a full-time, sandwich or part-time basis. Roughly 40% of the course is spent gaining work experience on ambulance and hospital placements, the other 60% on theoretical studies. A list of approved courses is available on the Health Professions Council (HPC) website.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- a caring attitude and outgoing, helpful personality;
- a responsible and highly motivated approach to the work;
- good interpersonal and teamwork skills;
- good oral and written communication skills;
- the ability to be calm, quick-thinking and decisive in a crisis;
- good general fitness to cope with lifting patients and equipment;
- the ability to relate to people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, races, religions and cultures;
- a commitment to continuous professional development and education.
Other requirements include:
- a clean, current, full driving licence held for a minimum of one year (often two), and preferably experience of driving larger vehicles and carrying passengers;
- satisfactory clearance of a standard Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check;
- passing a fitness test, occupational health screening (normal colour vision and manual dexterity are important) and medical assessment including eye tests (spectacles are acceptable);
- residence in the local area within an acceptable travelling distance from work.
Useful pre-entry experience includes:
- experience of dealing with the public, especially sick, disabled and elderly people;
- first aid certificates as evidence of your interest;
- voluntary experience in organisations such as the St John Ambulance , the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association and the British Red Cross ;
- experience in life-saving techniques, which you can gain by volunteering as a community ‘first responder’ in association with local ambulance services;
- office-based work in an ambulance service.
Find out more by visiting an ambulance station and check the Ambulance Service Network to keep up to date with current issues.
- Salaries are covered by the National Health Service (NHS) Agenda for Change pay scales. Paramedic salaries are in Band 5, which ranges from £25,176 – £29,534. Up to 25% more can be earned for working unsocial hours (salary data collected June 2020).
- For team leaders, salaries are in Band 6: £85,472 – £37,189 (salary data collected June 2020).
- Employee benefits may include an NHS pension scheme, study leave for sponsored courses, relocation package and access to counselling services and physiotherapy treatment.
- The emergency ambulance service operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Paramedics typically work 37.5 hours per week, usually including night and weekend shifts and cover for public holidays. There is usually an annual leave entitlement of 27 days, plus public holidays or time in lieu.
- You may be required for additional stand-by and on-call duties, especially in remote areas.
- Part-time and reduced hours, career breaks and job-sharing are usually available. Self-employment is an increasingly popular option, although this is largely part time.
- Jobs are available in all NHS trust regions throughout the UK.
- Uniforms are worn and protective clothing, such as a bright jacket and boots, may be necessary.
- A paramedic is usually the senior member of a two-person ambulance crew. The other crew member is an ambulance technician, who acts as an assistant. Paramedics sometimes also work alone using an emergency response car, a motorbike or even a bicycle.
- Apart from patients, paramedics also have to deal with other individuals present who may be distressed or violent.
- The work is physically demanding and may be psychologically and emotionally stressful. Debriefing, chaplaincy and counselling systems are in place and stress management courses are available.
- Ambulance crews are quite frequently exposed to verbal and physical abuse, particularly as a result of the increasing number of alcohol-related call-outs.
- Nightshift and weekend working may impact on social life.
- Travel within the working day is a regular feature of the role. Overseas work or travel is unusual.