Paramedics provide immediate response to emergency medical 999 calls. They are usually the first senior healthcare professional on the scene and are responsible for assessing a patient's condition and providing essential treatment prior to hospital admission.
- resuscitating and stabilising patients;
- using high tech equipment e.g. defibrillator;
- applying spinal and traction splints;
- administering intravenous drips, drugs and oxygen.
Paramedics attend emergencies including minor injuries, sudden illness, and casualties arising from road and rail accidents, criminal violence, fires and other incidents.
They are usually in a two-person ambulance crew with the other being an ambulance technician or emergency care assistant, who helps them. Some work is alone however, using an emergency response car, motorbike or bicycle to get to a patient.
Paramedics can become air ambulance crew members with extra training.
A paramedic's day is always different as they constantly have a new set of patients who can be suffering from a range of illnesses. Even if some illnesses become more prevalent at certain times of the year, there will still be variation in the work as each patient with the same illness will have a different scenario.
Although the work is diverse there are some regular tasks, which include:
- responding to 999 calls for medical assistance at accidents, emergencies and other related incidents, usually in an ambulance with an ambulance technician or emergency care assistant to help;
- assessing the condition of patients who are injured or taken ill suddenly;
- providing an immediate course of treatment en route to hospital or on scene;
- applying splints to limbs, dressing wounds, administering pain relief, oxygen, drips and fluids;
- using highly technical 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;
- assessing whether and how to move patients and, where appropriate, the best location to transport them to;
- liaising with members of other emergency services, such as the police, fire brigade or coast guard and other ambulance services to ensure the appropriate level of response is provided;
- working closely with doctors and nurses in hospital accident and emergency departments, briefing them as their patient arrives at hospital;
- dealing with members of the public and family members present at the scene;
- 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;
- producing thorough case notes and reporting the patient's history, condition and treatment to relevant hospital staff.
- Salaries are covered by the National Health Service (NHS) Agenda for Change pay scales. Paramedic salaries start in Band 5, which ranges from £21,478 to £27,901.
- For team leaders or paramedics who have undertaken extended skills training in critical care or trauma, salaries are in Band 6, which fall between £25,783 and £34,530. Some degree courses include this additional training however it is still likely that you would start your career at Band 5, progressing into Band 6 through an appraisal process when the additional skills have been evidenced in your work.
Overtime, shift and out of hours working is rewarded with pay enhancements.
Employee benefits may include an NHS pension scheme, study leave for sponsored courses, relocation package and access to counselling services and physiotherapy treatment.
Income data from NHS Agenda for Change. Figures are intended as a guide only
The emergency ambulance service is always open requiring paramedics to work in shifts to cover every hour of the day. Paramedics typically work 37.5 hours per week, usually including night and weekend shifts and cover for public holidays. There is an annual leave entitlement of 27 days, rising to 33 days after 10 years' service plus public holidays or time in lieu
Flexible working opportunities such as part time or job share may be available.
You may be required for additional stand-by and on-call duties, especially in remote areas.
What to expect
- 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.
- The work is physically demanding and can be psychologically and emotionally stressful. Debriefing, chaplaincy and counselling systems are in place and stress management courses are available.
- Ambulance crews are sometimes 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 not just within your own region but also partnering trusts when cover might be low. You may finish your shift over an hour away from your base station. Overseas work or travel is unusual.
There are two ways to become a paramedic, either take an approved university course in paramedic science (available at diploma, foundation degree and BSc level), or apply for a position within an ambulance trust as a student paramedic and be trained while you are working.
Paramedics must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) in order to practice and so any course that you take (full or part time) must be HPC-approved.
The HPC currently lists nearly 50 approved courses of paramedic training; this includes:
- university courses at foundation degree;
- diploma and BSc degree level;
- work-based learning.
You can find the list of approved providers on the HPC website.
Each NHS ambulance service trust may have its own individual entry requirements for student paramedic posts; either check for details in the job advertisement (see NHS Jobs) or contact the trust directly for further details.
The number of vacancies advertised is very limited. Student paramedic training can take up to five years of part-time study alongside work.
Vacancies will be subject to open competition and candidates applying for these will come from a variety of backgrounds and hold a range of qualifications. Some will have had experience of working in the ambulance service already (e.g. as an emergency care assistant or ambulance care assistant), or another part of the NHS, but there will also be applicants from outside of the NHS, with other skills and experience.
Entry requirements for university courses also vary, particularly depending on the level of study you wish to take. You should contact the institution or ambulance service/trust directly for further information or consult the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website.
Courses tend to be modular with flexible entry and exit points depending on your academic qualifications and relevant experience. Courses take between two and five years (depending on which course you take).
The degrees combine a mixture of work experience on ambulance and hospital placements with theoretical studies. Details can be found by using the course finder tool on Health Careers.
Most course providers assess applicants via interview.
You will need:
- a caring attitude and outgoing, helpful personality;
- a responsible and highly motivated approach to the work;
- good interpersonal and teamwork skills;
- strong oral and written communication skills;
- excellent driving skills;
- initiative and decision making;
- have a calm and reassuring approach;
- 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 may include:
- a full manual driving licence. If you passed your test after 1996, you may need an extra driving qualification to drive larger vehicles and to carry passengers;
- clearance of an enhanced DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) 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);
- IELTS score of 7 in all elements for students whose first language is not English.
In addition to academic qualifications you may need to demonstrate relevant care experience such as in a care home or at St John Ambulance.
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 St John Ambulance, St Andrew's Ambulance Association and 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 Guide to Ambulance Service Information to keep up to date with current issues.
Most paramedics work for the National Health Service (NHS) and are recruited and employed in individual NHS trust ambulance services covering specific geographical areas.
Ambulance services are usually committed to having at least one paramedic on each emergency ambulance. Job opportunities are therefore generally good, but the number of vacancies varies between regions across the UK.
Other employers include:
- the armed forces;
- private ambulance services;
- overseas health departments;
- oil and gas exploration companies.
There is also the option of working for private paramedical agencies for occasions such as sporting fixtures, major events or on film and TV sets.
Other opportunities exist as first-aid instructors and health and safety trainers.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Ambulance UK
- Health Service Journal
- NHS Jobs
- Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
- The Scottish Ambulance Service NHS Trust
- Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust
- Local ambulance services. For a list of NHS Ambulance Trusts, see NHS Ambulance Service Trusts in England
- Local and regional newspapers.
Private ambulance agencies covering specialist events can be found using internet search engines. Some NHS ambulance services, as well as agencies, operate registers for relief or shift-cover paramedic work.
In order to practise, paramedics must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) and must comply with HPC regulations in order to remain on the register.
All professionals on the HPC register are required to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) and to keep a record of their CPD.
Selected paramedics will have to provide evidence of CPD. The evidence will have to show that the CPD a paramedic has undertaken has contributed to the quality of their practice and demonstrate that it benefited the service user.
Typically, paramedics can continue their development by undertaking:
- work-based learning;
- professional activity;
- formal education;
- self-directed learning.
Activities might include:
- reading professional publications;
- attending conferences;
- work shadowing;
- joining a professional specialist interest group.
The College of Paramedics makes recommendations for CPD activity which meet the requirements set by the HPC.
Promotion opportunities are generally expanding within the NHS (see Health Careers).
After time as a fully qualified and experienced paramedic, you might be promoted to senior paramedic or emergency services team leader.
Further promotion might lead to management posts in roles such as operational manager. Later, progression may be to senior posts such as operations locality manager, assistant director of operations, or a senior position in the control room.
Studying for management qualifications on a part-time basis can form part of the route to managerial positions. When in a managerial position you may be asked to undertake bespoke training such as media training for giving official public statements.
Most senior officers have risen through the ranks and have operational experience. Having a degree in paramedical science may enhance prospects for first and second line management positions, as will a willingness to relocate.
The role of paramedic is developing to include roles in new clinical areas. For example, paramedics may work alongside doctors and nurses as emergency care practitioners (ECPs), also known as senior paramedics, based in:
- health centres;
- GPs' surgeries;
- minor injuries units;
- hospital accident and emergency departments;
- community hospitals.
It is also possible, with further training in critical care and trauma, to move into the senior role of critical care paramedic.
Opportunities also exist in some locations for specialist work with motorcycle, rapid response car or air ambulance (helicopter) units.
In some locations air ambulance positions are open on a secondment basis but these are moving more into permanent positions as given the charitable status of most air ambulance services and the amount of training provided the preference is for people to stay in post.
You could also move to related occupations in health care, either in a clinical role, such as nursing, or into non-clinical careers, such as NHS trust management and administration, training and development, health and safety, and personnel, obtaining specialist qualifications en route.
Careers in other uniformed services, such as the armed forces, police or fire service, are also an option, as are lecturing posts on paramedic science courses.