Q&A: Working as a Paramedic
Sean started working as a paramedic straight after leaving university and has worked his way up to a Band 6 Paramedic role. He tells us about his experiences at work and training and gives his tips for excelling in the job.
What did you study at university?
I studied a BSc in Paramedic Science at The University of Hertfordshire. As part of this I joined an Ambulance Service, where throughout my course, I gained a practical knowledge of the frontline paramedic role through placements. This was one-to-one training with a qualified Paramedic.
What is your current job, and how long have you been in this role?
My job title is a Band 6 Paramedic, however my current role is within the operational placement centre as a mentor. It is my responsibility to take two new graduates and train them to work on their own. This is where practitioners begin their journey and start to treat patients alone for the first time.
What is the day to day like in your current role?
My day starts by signing our drugs packs out of a secure area, completing a vehicle daily inspection, where all equipment including the ambulance is checked. After this we start our shifts. We may not have a call and can relax until we get one; however most of the time, a call will be waiting for us.
Every call I attend is so different. The reality is you can be sent to anything and everything. This is the most exciting, but also challenging, part of my job. Throughout my career I have attended a vast variety of calls. It could be an elderly person who needs help getting up from the floor, to murders. It can be telling somebody’s family that their loved one isn’t going to make it, or assisting a mother give birth to a new-born. You never know what situation you are going to turn up to.
Why did you decide you wanted to be a paramedic?
Many of my colleagues chose to do this job because of a family event that led them there, or they were truly passionate about becoming a paramedic. I found my passion for this job later, my career choice was more random: before deciding what to study at uni, I looked at what skills and qualifications were required – such as good people skills and a solid interest in science and problem solving – and decided this was a good fit for me. It is a unique job with autonomy, responsibility and above all, freedom.
Is the job what you expected?
It is and it isn’t. The urgent care and social work calls form the majority of the workload. This can become tedious. However, you can change people’s lives for the better. I started training for this job when I was 18 and I didn’t really understand what I was getting into, however, now I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Is there anything you wish you had known before starting?
I love my job, but it’s important to understand that it is a large burden with long shifts, as well as seeing things most others would never dream of. The work is physically demanding and can also be emotionally challenging. I have many friends who now suffer from PTSD and injuries from the intense physicality of the job. You put yourself at risk every day.
I would say make sure you are really physically fit, good with people and don’t mind working unsocial hours.
Once you have your degree and some experience, you are gold dust. It is no secret that the UK has a shortage of paramedics. You can work in GP surgeries, on bikes, motorbikes, solo cars, oil rigs, helicopters, hazardous area response teams. The sky really is the limit.
Are there any specific educational requirements for your role?
A paramedic must study Paramedic Science at university or start as a medical technician (or similar role), then train in house and work up the ladder. However, the latter option will soon be gone as the paramedic profession is moving to degree only. So, if you are just starting out, I would suggest going to university and doing the degree – you still get more than enough time in the ambulance with this route.
What qualities or skills are necessary for being a paramedic?
The obvious are: science, English, maths, people skills, team working and leadership skills.
The less obvious: problem solving, self-motivation, time management, driving skills and being able to work under pressure in highly emotional environments.
What do you like most about your job?
The thing I love the most about being a paramedic is the autonomy. In healthcare, paramedics can freely make decisions based on clinical reasoning for a patient’s benefit. This is rare in healthcare. You are also out and about working alone or as part of a small team. The other thing I love is that you are always working towards your own personal goal. This makes working feel like you are one step closer day by day, which is motivating.
What are the main challenges?
The number one challenge is the rota. Make no mistake, when you are new, the rota can be awful. Many services have a system known as ‘relief’, which is where you fill the gaps. You do the shifts others don’t want to do such as nights and weekends. Then more nights and weekends, and even more nights and weekends!
What has it been like working during the pandemic?
During the peak of the pandemic, being a paramedic was challenging. Not so much because of the work, but for me, the worst part was finishing those long shifts then having to follow normal lockdown guidance on your days off. This meant no socialising, meaning it was difficult to unwind, and I found that extremely challenging. It was difficult at first when there were many unknowns, but the job itself hasn’t changed, we just wear more PPE now!
Do you work as part of a team?
You are expected to be able to work in a team every day – with a crewmate, police, fire brigade, hospital staff and members of the public. For example, when you arrive at a person who is in cardiac arrest, the family expect a “pit stop” like when tyres are changed at the F1. This couldn’t be achieved without good team working skills.
How do you switch off?
I socialise with friends, go to the gym, go on as many holidays as I possibly can, and I read. It is very important to have strong interests and hobbies outside of work so you can really switch off.
What advice would you have for anyone starting out as a paramedic?
My advice is have fun! The job is very serious at times, but remember, you don’t take on this job to make money. You do it for the experience and to help others. If you aren’t having fun, it really isn’t worth it.
What is your idea of success, and has this changed over time?
My personal idea of success is very much career driven. For me this has never changed. But I feel I have changed when it comes to personal life: you start to appreciate how life is so fragile, and make more of a conscious effort to enjoy it along the journey.
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