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Paramedic training – have you got what it takes?

Are you considering a career as a paramedic, but feeling apprehensive about the demands of a role on the frontline of the health service? Read on to discover what paramedic training involves and the kind of skills and qualities you need for the job.

What the role involves

Paramedics work on their own or with an assistant practitioner and deal with both emergency and non-emergency situations. They treat everything from minor wounds to life-threatening injuries, and are often the first healthcare professional to arrive at the scene.

Using their clinical experience, paramedics assess the patient and decide whether they should be treated immediately or transferred to hospital, left at home or referred to ‘alternative car pathways,’ such as a GP or pharmacist.

In an emergency, paramedics provide life-saving treatment, and work closely with medical staff in hospital emergency departments, briefing them on the patient’s condition on arrival.

How to become a paramedic

If you want to work as a paramedic, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). To join the register, you need a foundation degree, diploma of higher education (DipHE), or degree in paramedic science or paramedic emergency care.

There are around 30 universities offering suitable qualifications now, but very few on-the-job training schemes still survive, so your training is likely to be via the academic route.

However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get hands-on experience. Work placements are a key component of courses, with organisers keen to give students practical skills to use in the field.

Common questions and concerns

Paul Townsend is a training officer and higher education link tutor for the BSc (Hons) Paramedic Science degree course offered by the University of Hertfordshire. The first course nationally to integrate full paramedic training to the Health and Care Professions Council registration standards within a full-time degree programme.

Here, Paul answers some of the most common concerns about paramedic training.

What are the key skills students need?

The first skill you need is the ability to communicate effectively among a range of patients from different age groups, backgrounds and varying medical needs.

You also need to be able to move and handle heavy loads (people and equipment). I carry approximately 30kgs of equipment into every job when working alone, and patients can present in all sorts of positions and situations, upside down in a car or wedged behind a toilet to name a few.

You must also be able to drive well. Threading a four tonne-plus ambulance on blue lights and sirens through traffic takes skill and an advanced driving course.

Students also need the ability to cope with shift work, minimal breaks and getting off duty late.

It’s useful to have a good balance of academic ability along with people skills and common sense.

A good sense of humour helps to deal with daily stresses, but make sure it’s appropriate. A smile can break tension and make it easier to assess certain groups of patients.

You will be a life-long learner. One of the most important things I’ve learnt in this profession is that if you stand still, you are going backwards!

How do you prepare classroom-based students for the stresses of the job?

Many lecturers are paramedics and so they understand the job intimately. We use case studies to bring practice into the classroom and most universities are partnered with at least one ambulance trust, who will come and spend time with the students in a variety of capacities.

What personality traits help people thrive on the course or in the job?

Emotional strength, empathy, sympathy, being a good listener, talking easily to people, having personal confidence and being kind and compassionate.

Potential students should have a look at the NHS 6Cs. [For those that don’t know, these are: care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment. Find out more here].

Can students learn to be more resilient to the stresses?

Yes, but the NHS recognises what stress can do, so there are all sorts of support networks in place for staff and students. The universities support students while they are studying too.

Can you say roughly what the dropout rate is?

Five per cent.

Is there a common reason for dropping out?

Students often find that it’s not what they expected. Too many people get an inaccurate idea of the work involved from watching ER, Holby City or Casualty. Even the TV shows following live ambulances and helicopters portray only a small proportion of our core work. The vast majority of our work is medical and not trauma!

What do people underestimate about the job?

Call volumes. The busiest days in London can exceed 6,000 calls per day. Also the amount of work that involves the elderly, excess alcohol consumption, and mental health.

One in four adults in Britain will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Being able to assess and react quickly to any given situation is vital. Techniques for this and other areas are covered on courses, and your practice educators will help to contextualise these with you when in practice.

What can people do to help themselves get a place on a course?

Experience in a healthcare role is helpful, such as working as a carer or healthcare assistant.

Any work which gives you some insight into this type of role is also useful. Working in a bar or restaurant, for example, may give you experience of managing aggression, dissatisfied customers or large groups of people. This can also give you an understanding of what it’s like to be on your feet all day, often working long and unsocial hours.

Entry requirements can vary from course to course – but here is what you need to be considered for the Paramedic Science degree course offered by the University of Hertfordshire.

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