Emergency responders have some of the hardest and most important jobs in the UK and around the world. When we call 111 or 999, we need expert help as soon as possible. Paramedics provide invaluable first-response medical efforts. You may be attempting to resuscitate patients, getting them to the hospital on time or responding to large-scale incidents.
It is a high-pressure job that requires very special people. As such, the qualifications for becoming a paramedic in the UK are numerous. You will need a solid academic background and experience as well as strong personal fortitude to work in this high-pressure, high-reward career.
Necessary Skills for Paramedics
Above all, being a paramedic means responding well under pressure. A matter of just a couple minutes can make the difference between a patient living or dying. Paramedics also need to be able to get information out of patients and families so they know the proper course of action to take. That requires an impeccable bedside manner and the ability to communicate clearly and in a way that helps patients do the same.
You also need to have a strong desire to care for and serve others. Being a paramedic can be extremely stressful and demanding. It is not an easy job or done simply for money. You need to have a strong commitment to wanting to help others. For many, a medical necessity or disaster will be their darkest hour. You need to stand as a ray of light, hope, and reassurance.
Moreover, having strong driving skills is greatly appreciated. Ambulance drivers have to be able to cut through traffic to get patients to the hospital as quickly as possible. NHS ambulance trusts require their paramedics to be able to drive ambulances in emergency conditions.
Paramedics often have to lift physically incapacitated people as well as gurneys. Thus, they need to be in good physical shape.
Qualifications Needed to Become a Paramedic
In addition to those basic skills, paramedics need to be properly certified. As with many professions in the UK, there is both a university as well as a training-based path.
In the case of the former, you will first need to study paramedic science for two to four years and receive a degree. The level at which you’ll enter the programme and the course itself will vary between universities. Upon completion of the university course, you can apply to serve as a qualified paramedic.
The latter route involves applying to work and study as a student with an ambulance trust. As with many other apprenticeship and training programmes in the UK, this is a “learn as you earn” model. And as with universities, the entry requirements for these training programmes as well as NHS ambulance services will vary. This path can take slightly longer – up to five years – though again, unlike the university path, you get to earn money while learning your craft.
These openings are highly desirable. Openings are limited and so entry requirements tend to be high. You will likely need at least 5 GCSEs with at least a C in subjects including English, Science, and Maths.
In addition to those skills and qualifications, those hiring paramedics also look for certain types of crisis or medical-related experience. For example, volunteering for a medical charity such as the Red Cross or St. Andrew’s First Aid can give you some of the aforementioned skills necessary for paramedic work. Any prior medical experience is welcome, as are any first-aid training and certificates.
Just as important is your ability to work with people. Paramedics need to instil trust in their patients and families, which requires empathy and strong communication skills. Prior work in which you demonstrated either would be welcome.
What a Paramedic Does
Working as a paramedic means usually being the first medical responder on the scene. The people you treat may be severely injured or suffering from any number of dire medical conditions. Your job is to assess their condition, provide essential treatment and get them to a hospital as quickly as possible.
Some medical treatments that you will need to be able to administer quickly and competently include:
- Resuscitating patients with techniques such as CPR and equipment such as defibrillators
- Responding to severe spinal injuries and broken bones by applying splints
- Administering IV drips for drugs
- Administering oxygen masks
You may have to respond to a wide range of incidents including auto and rail accidents, fires and other natural disasters, and criminal violence.
Ambulances are typically made up of a two-person paramedic crew with a technician and emergency care assistant onboard as well. You can also work on your own in an emergency care vehicle.
If working in an air ambulance crew, such as helicopters, interests you then you will need extra air paramedic training.
Other paramedic duties include:
- Knowing how to carry out certain emergency surgical techniques (for example, intubation)
- Deciding if hospitalisation is necessary and, if so, which hospital is closest and best suited to treat the patient’s condition
- Assisting the police, firefighters, Coast Guard workers, and other emergency services to provide fast, effective, and coordinated responses
- Producing notes on the patient’s history and condition
- Working with doctors and nurses while providing them with the medical information necessary for them to continue treatment of the patient
- Checking, decontaminating and servicing your emergency vehicle
- Providing advice to fellow paramedics as needed
- Mentoring new paramedics
One of the distinguishing features of paramedic work is enduring working conditions which would otherwise be considered extraordinary.
As stated, the job is incredibly physically taxing. You’ll need to be in great shape and okay with exerting yourself on a daily basis. Even more than that, it is also mentally taxing. Paramedics can face physical and verbal abuse from distraught individuals, such as emotionally hurt family members and those suffering from alcohol, drugs, or mental illness.
However, you will receive lots of support to deal with that. Paramedic programmes frequently offer debriefing, counselling, and chaplaincy services. Additionally, they also offer stress management as well as conflict management courses. These are designed to help you mitigate the stress of the position on yourself as well as help others in stressful situations.
As you might expect from an ambulance driving-heavy job, travel is a huge feature of the position. You will be expected to travel a lot within your own region. What’s more, if another region or trust is low on paramedic workers, you may be dispatched to help them make up the difference until they are able to call up reserves.
Travel may take you as much as an hour away from your base of operations by the end of your shift, meaning that you’ll have to travel all the way back there before you can even start heading home. Even if this is not the case, you can expect to work long hours throughout the week. Ambulance services are on call 24 hours a day with most drivers doing roughly 37.5 hours a week. These times can include any hour of the day as well as weekends and public holidays. Some services allow for partial job sharing to help manage the load between drivers.
While the most common employer for ambulance drivers and paramedics is the NHS, there are other options available to you. For example, you may consider working for either the Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish ambulance services. You may also consider providing ambulance services for the Armed Forces or HM Prison Service. British Overseas organisations and private companies also require paramedic and ambulance services.
Pay Progression for a Paramedic
Paramedic salaries fall under the pay scales listed on the NHS Agenda for Change. You’ll start at Band 5, which entitles you to a salary between £23,000 to £29,600. Upon completion of additional training and further experience, you’ll be able to work your way up to Band 6, which can earn you between £28,000 and £36,600. With enough experience, you could reach the level of a consultant paramedic and a salary in excess of £71,000.
Furthermore, as an NHS employee, you will be eligible for their pension scheme as well as assistance with things such as relocation and sponsored courses. The pay for those other jobs outside the NHS can vary widely.
Of course, the greatest reward isn’t the money you make, but the lives you save. We all want to make a difference and paramedic workers do so on a daily basis.
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