How to become a paramedic

Jemma Smith, Editor
July, 2015

If you have a genuine interest in helping others and are able to keep a cool head under pressure then a job within the ambulance service could be for you

A career as a paramedic offers up a diverse line of work for graduates who are passionate about making a difference and due to the current national shortage of qualified paramedics in the UK, the chances of employment upon graduation are excellent.

'It's a great career with many opportunities and a variety of roles,' says Paul Vigar, professional lead for paramedic science at Canterbury Christ Church University. 'Paramedic work can be emotionally and physically challenging at times but it's always incredibly rewarding.'

Getting qualified

Wannabe paramedics currently need a degree or foundation degree to enter the profession; however Phillip Brown, specialist paramedic with the North West Ambulance Service expects this to change. 'In the future the minimum qualification required is likely to increase to a Bachelors degree, similar to nursing,' making this an all-graduate occupation.

Entry requirements for paramedic courses vary, but in most cases direct entry requires BBB at A-level (with a science subject at A2 level) and English, maths and science at GCSE grade C or above.

If you've made the grades there are a number of Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) approved courses for you to choose from, the next step will be deciding which one is best for you.

The BSc Paramedic Science course at the University of East Anglia (UEA), provides students with a 'rich and contemporary education,' comprising 50% theory and 50% placement. 'Students are taught by clinically active paramedics, as well as other professionals including the police and fire service.' says Laurence Hill, lecturer in paramedic science at UAE.

Or how about the Diploma of Higher Education Paramedic Practice at Edge Hill University? Here students learn through lectures, group discussions and student-led seminars and get to experience real-life situations through placements in GP surgeries, emergency ambulance teams, maternity units and operating departments. 'Feedback in relation to the programme is overwhelmingly positive, with 97% of students claiming to be satisfied with the course,' explains Phil Crompton, head of paramedic science.

At Canterbury Christ Church University students on the BSc Paramedic Science course study a range of subjects. 'The first year is about what it's like to be a healthcare practitioner, year two focuses on team-working and the final year is about how teams work together in the health and social care arena,' says Paul.

While it is no longer possible to train directly with an ambulance service, there are still options available for those who would prefer a more vocational route into the job. For example, you could work for an ambulance service as an emergency care support worker. This would still involve university study but you'd earn while you learn.

Phillip explains, 'Most services recruit for ambulance technician roles. These clinicians have a reduced clinical scope of practice and typically assist a senior colleague such a as a paramedic. After a minimum of two years service they are eligible to be considered for paid release to join a paramedic diploma programme.'

Finding a job

The good news is this, 'on completion of a paramedic science course students can expect to have potential employers vying for their employment,' says Laurence, however, not before registering with the HCPC, which will enable you to start applying for graduate positions via NHS Jobs.

Phillip gives an insight into what the hiring process involves, 'shortlisted candidates will be interviewed and given a driving assessment. A conditional offer of employment will initially be made until certain checks have been completed, then once your position is secured the induction programme will involve a driving course to bring your proficiency up to blue-light standards.'

Whether you work in the NHS or private sector your career has the potential to be incredibly varied as you'll get the opportunity to work in a diverse range of settings including ambulance services, emergency departments, minor injuries units, operations centres, GP surgeries and the air ambulance to name just a few.

Chances of progression are also good, 'the paramedic role is highly regarded and there are a huge number of development opportunities, including promotion to senior paramedic, advanced paramedic and consultant paramedic,' says Phillip. 'There are also other specialisms available such as community paramedic, specialist paramedic and lecturer practitioner roles.'

Expert advice

Applications far outweigh the number of places available so to increase your chances of getting onto a course follow this expert advice.

  • 'Study hard at sciences, in particular subjects that involve biology and please don't come to course interviews and say that you're looking for excitement. Being a paramedic is about being a healthcare professional, not a thrill seeker,' advises Laurence.
  • Paul believes that you need to be clear about why you want to be a paramedic. 'If you can say that you've considered other healthcare professions but want to be a paramedic for a specific reason, this will strengthen your case.'
  • 'Most paramedics agree that it's the best job in the world, but it's not for everyone,' explains Phillip. 'Give it a go by volunteering with the St Johns Ambulance Service or as a first aider at events. This experience will make you stand out on your university application and give you a feel for the job.'