If you have an interest in caring for people as well as a calm and reassuring manner, the role of paramedic could be for you

As a paramedic, you'll provide immediate response to emergency medical 999 and 111 calls. You'll usually be the first senior healthcare professional on the scene and the level of care you provide can range from dealing with life threatening conditions to minor illnesses and injuries.

You will need to assess a patient's condition and provide essential treatment which could include:

  • resuscitating and stabilising patients;
  • using high-tech equipment e.g. defibrillator;
  • applying spinal and traction splints;
  • administering intravenous drips, drugs and oxygen.

Emergencies can cover injuries, sudden illness, and casualties arising from road and rail accidents, criminal violence, fires and other incidents.

You'll typically work in a two-person ambulance crew alongside an ambulance technician or emergency care assistant. It's also possible to work alone, using an emergency response car, motorbike or bicycle to get to a patient.

You may become an air ambulance crew member with extra training.

Responsibilities

Your work will vary greatly depending on the patient and their condition, but in general you'll need to:

  • provide an immediate course of treatment en route to hospital or at the scene;
  • use technical equipment, including ventilators to assist breathing and defibrillators to treat heart failure, in order to resuscitate and stabilise patients;
  • carry out certain surgical procedures when necessary, such as intubation (insertion of a breathing tube);
  • monitor the patient's condition;
  • decide if admission to hospital is necessary and assess how to move patients and where the best location is for them;
  • liaise 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;
  • work closely with doctors and nurses in hospital accident and emergency departments, briefing them as their patient arrives at hospital;
  • deal with members of the public and family members present at the scene;
  • clean, decontaminate and check vehicles and equipment to maintain a state of operational readiness;
  • assist with patient care in hospitals or health care centres;
  • produce thorough case notes and report the patient's history, condition and treatment to relevant hospital staff.

Salary

  • Salaries are covered by the NHS Agenda for Change pay scales. Paramedic salaries start in Band 5, which ranges from £21,909 to £28,462.
  • For team leaders or senior paramedics who have undertaken extended skills training in critical care or trauma, salaries are in Band 6, which fall between £26,302 and £35,225.
  • If you continue to work up to the level of consultant paramedic, salaries at Band 8c may be achieved, which range from £56,104 to £68,484.

Employee benefits may include an NHS pension scheme, study leave for sponsored courses, relocation packages and access to counselling services and physiotherapy treatment.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

The emergency ambulance service operates every hour of the day and so you'll therefore need to work shifts to cover this. You'll typically do 37.5 hours per week and this can be made up of evenings and nights, weekends and public holidays.

You may be required for additional stand-by and on-call duties, especially in remote areas.

Flexible working opportunities such as part-time work or job sharing may be available.

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.

Qualifications

To work as a paramedic, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) and to do this you'll need to have completed an approved paramedic science qualification. There are two ways to do this:

  • complete a university course at diploma, foundation degree or degree level (this is the main recommended route);
  • apply for a position within an ambulance trust as a student paramedic and study while working.

Full details of all HCPC approved paramedic science qualifications are available at HCPC Register of Approved Programmes.

Student paramedic schemes are very competitive and each NHS ambulance service trust may have its own individual entry requirements for posts. Either check for details in the job advertisement or contact the trust directly for further details.

Skills

You will need:

  • a caring attitude and outgoing, helpful personality;
  • a responsible and highly motivated approach to the work;
  • good interpersonal skills for dealing with patients, their friends and family, and members of the public;
  • strong team work skills to work alongside other crew and hospital staff;
  • oral and written communication skills for reporting conditions;
  • excellent driving skills;
  • initiative and decision making capability in pressured situations;
  • a calm and reassuring approach;
  • good general fitness to cope with lifting patients and equipment;
  • the ability to relate to people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, races, religions and cultures.

It is also a requirement of most NHS ambulance trusts for you to be able to drive an ambulance under emergency conditions. While you'll be giving specific training for this, you'll typically need to have category C1 on your driving licence.

Work experience

You'll usually be expected to have some related care experience which may include:

  • 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.

It's also useful to become a student member of the College of Paramedics. This will show your interest in, and commitment to, the profession and provide access to useful resources.

Employers

Most paramedics work for the 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:

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.

Professional development

When you join an ambulance service you'll receive on-the-job training to become familiar with that particular service.

You must be registered with the HCPC to practise as a paramedic and to stay on the register you need to comply with HCPC regulations. This includes undertaking continuing professional development (CPD) and keeping a record of CPD activities.

Typically, you can continue your development by carrying out:

  • formal education;
  • professional activity;
  • self-directed learning;
  • work-based learning.

Activities might include:

  • attending conferences;
  • reading professional publications;
  • joining a professional specialist interest group;
  • work shadowing.

A post-registration career framework, CPD events and an annual conference are available through the College of Paramedics. You can gain full membership with the college, which provides benefits including various levels of insurance cover, access to a regional network and different resources and products.

Career prospects

Once you've gained experience, you might be promoted to senior paramedic or emergency services team leader. Following this, it's possible to progress into management posts such as operational manager, assistant director of operations or a senior position in the control room.

You may be required to take management qualifications on a part-time basis to progress to these roles and once in post, you could take bespoke training in areas such as media for giving official public statements.

As a senior paramedic it's possible to work as an emergency care practitioner (ECP), where you could be based in:

  • community hospitals;
  • GPs' surgeries;
  • health centres;
  • hospital accident and emergency departments;
  • minor injuries units.

It is also possible, with further training in critical care and trauma, to move into the senior role of critical care paramedic. Opportunities exist in some locations for specialist work with motorcycle, rapid response car or air ambulance (helicopter) units.

You may choose to 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, or health and safety. Extra training and qualifications are likely to be required.

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.