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How to become a paramedic

The combination of patient care, medical knowledge, driving skills and an ever-changing working day makes being a paramedic a very popular career choice

As any viewer of the BBC television series Ambulance will know, being a paramedic is not for the faint-hearted. You will be dealing with life-and-death situations – helping people who may or may not appreciate your service – while frequently navigating traffic jams when every second counts.

If you want to make a real difference to people’s lives, this could be the profession for you. This guide talks you through all you need to know about becoming a paramedic.

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Not interested in becoming a paramedic? Browse all of our careers and job guides.
 

Overview

What does a paramedic do?

Evaluating a patient's condition, deciding whether they should be treated at the scene or transferred to hospital, is a crucial part of a paramedic’s job. In non-life-threatening situations, you'll use your professional judgement to make key clinical decisions.
 
Health Careers highlights a few of a paramedic's responsibilities: 
  • In an emergency, you'll use high-tech equipment such as defibrillators (which restore the heart's rhythm), spinal and traction splints and intravenous drips, as well as administering oxygen and drugs.
     
  • You will be trained to drive what is in effect a mobile emergency clinic and to resuscitate and/or stabilise patients using sophisticated techniques, equipment and drugs for a range of conditions.
     
  • For example, you might be called out to someone who has fallen from scaffolding or an elderly person with a suspected stroke.
     
  • As well as having contact with your patients, you will also deal with their relatives and friends and members of the public, some of whom might be highly distressed or aggressive.
     
  • You will also often work alongside the police and fire and rescue services.
     
  • Based at a local ambulance station, you will work shifts, including evenings and weekends, going out in all weathers at all hours of the night or day.
     
  • You will work closely with other healthcare teams in the community, such as GPs, occupational therapists, mental health teams, diabetes specialists, doctors and nurses in hospital emergency departments.


What to expect as a paramedic

Paramedics normally work in a team of two: a lead person who then has an ambulance technician, emergency medical technician or emergency care assistant supporting them. 
 
That said, you may not be working in a pair, or even working out of an ambulance. You could be working on your own, while travelling by motorcycle, emergency response car, bike or even air ambulance helicopter to reach the patient.
 
Also, there's an increasing emphasis for paramedics to treat the patient at home, so they don't have to go to hospital unless it's absolutely necessary (in order to reduce demand on resources).
 
Alan Simmons, careers specialist at Health Careers, says:
The skillset of an experienced paramedic who has had extra training means that paramedics can now do many things that they couldn’t do a few years ago. For example, an experienced paramedic can now refer patients to social care services.  They can directly admit patients to specialist units and they can carry out tests such as urine tests and interpret results and administer medication.

Personal characteristics for a paramedic

There are a number of personal characteristics that will stand you in good stead for becoming an effective paramedic:
  • process key information quickly in an emergency, even in a chaotic environment
  • maintain your calm when the situation may be chaotic
  • be confident in yourself and able to reassure the patient and others
  • carry on with your work when others around you may be emotional or even aggressive
  • follow procedures and work quickly and carefully
  • work by yourself or as part of a team
  • prepare to go into unknown or unpredictable situations.

Common skills required of a paramedic

You will also need to possess skills that will help you deal with people, drive an ambulance and get to the location as quickly as possible: 
  • communication skills
  • listening skills
  • driving skills
  • organisational skills
  • competency in using equipment and machinery.

Top tip! Remember the skills needed to be a paramedic when you're writing your Ucas personal statement and preparing for an interview.

Think about how the voluntary work and work experience you have completed demonstrates you have these skills to those reading your application. If you don't make this clear here, your application may not be considered any further.  

How to become a paramedic



To be a paramedic, you have to be registered with the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC). To be eligible, you'll need a Paramedic Bachelor Degree with honours
 

Paramedic education and qualifications

The main route to becoming a paramedic is to study a BSc Paramedic Science/Practice full-time degree at university. All universities set their own entry requirements in terms of subjects and grades, so check these for the course you're applying to.

Search for a course on Which? University to see its entry requirements, how satisfied students are what they went on to achieve and more.

Currently, you can apply for a Paramedic Diploma of Higher Education (as of March 2019). However, this course is likely to be phased out because it will no longer make you eligible to apply for registration as a paramedic with the HCPC after 2024.

According to the College of Paramedics, after autumn 2024, you will only be eligible to register with the HCPC if you have one of the following:
Also, it will be impossible to work your way up from another job in the Ambulance Team or related NHS careers (such as in the Patient Transport Service) to become a paramedic, without holding a Paramedic Science/Practice Degree.

Some Ambulance Trusts – such as West Midlands Ambulance Trust – have a Student Paramedic Programme, which is a forerunner to the Paramedic Degree Apprenticeship (and may well become a degree apprenticeship in the future).

Look at the links to the Ambulance Service Trusts below to see if your local trust has any Student Paramedic vacancies that you would apply through (instead of going through Ucas).
 

Best universities for paramedic courses

Don’t be too concerned about getting into a top university for Paramedic Science/Practice. They will all be accredited by the HCPC and have to meet strict standards. Getting a place on any paramedic degree is an achievement.

The majority of courses are in the range of 112 to 120 Ucas tariff points. All consider A-levels, Highers/Advanced Highers and the International Baccalaureate.

Also, you must have at least one relevant science subject. What's considered a relevant science subject can vary from one institution to another. Some might consider physical education a science subject, whereas others won't. For example, University of East Anglia will accept PE as a science A-level, while Hertfordshire won't.

Many courses will consider BTEC or equivalent courses. Again, your research is needed here: Hertfordshire will not accept the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care, while UEA will accept it (as long as it includes either 'Physiological Disorders' or 'The impact of long-term physiological conditions' units).

As you can see, it really depends on what you're applying with and the institutions you're applying to. It's best to play it safe and ask the university directly for its stance.


How to apply for a paramedic course at university

You can search for courses to identify all the paramedic courses available. There are 34 courses available (as of March 2019). Look at the course information section to find out what the entry requirements are.

You can double-check the ones that you are most interested in by going to the entry requirements page of the university website.

You will only have five choices on Ucas Apply, so don't waste a choice if you haven’t got exactly what is being asked for – Paramedic Science is a very competitive course to apply to. When searching for a course, you can see the percentage of applicants who receive an offer, and most courses seem to make offers to 20-30% of people applying.

 

Do I need to have a driving licence to become a paramedic?

Here’s what the College of Paramedics says:
Technically no, however it is very difficult to succeed in a career as a paramedic without being able to drive. The HCPC who define the requirements for the Standards of Education and Training (SETs) and the Standards of Proficiency – paramedics (SOPs), do NOT insist a student has any driving ability to join or stay on or to register on an approved programme. However, NHS Ambulance services and many private ambulance services make it a condition of employment.

The fact is, some university programmes do make it a compulsory element of the selection process, which is allowed as long as they declare that to you when you’re choosing a course and making the decision based on your qualifications, skills and attributes.
 
Top tip! Some universities will not mention anything about having a driving licence, while others will offer very specific guidance, such as the University of Portsmouth and Anglia Ruskin University.

In reality, when you finish your degree it will be really advantageous for you to hold a full driving licence in the C1 category, as this allows you to drive a vehicle that is the size of an ambulance.

 

Personal statement for a paramedic

You should make it clear in your Ucas personal statement about why you want to become a paramedic, relating your experiences (work experience, voluntary work, part-time job, hobbies) to the skills required to be a paramedic.

For example:
  • You volunteer at a residential home for the elderly and you have become aware of the health conditions that many of the residents have, such as dementia and how this affects their listening skills and that they may not understand what you are saying.
     
  • You work part-time at McDonald's and have had to remain calm when dealing with boisterous customers.

Here’s an example of what St George’s, University of London looks for in a paramedic personal statement:
You should have work or voluntary experience in a medical or health-related field and be able to demonstrate a broad awareness of the scope of paramedic science. We consider anything that involves working directly with patients or people in need of care as relevant. Although clinical experience is useful, your work experience does not have to take place in a hospital. It can be paid or voluntary. We prefer hands-on work experience to shadowing. Working in a care home, hospice or doing community work with disabled adults or children are considered very relevant.
We do not specify a minimum amount of work experience and although you can use experiences from your past we always recommend that you include your most recent experience.

See more personal statement examples.

Writing your personal statement? Browse our full advice and tips, plus check out our personal statement builder tool to help you draft yours.
 

University interviews for a paramedic

It's vital that you prepare for any and all interviews you're invited to. You need to understand what will happen on the day. For example, an interview at Anglia Ruskin will involve the following:
  • literacy assessment
  • numeracy assessment
  • group interview
  • individual interview.
     
Top tip! Do mock interviews, where you get people to ask you the following questions:
  • 'Why do you want to be a paramedic?'
  • 'What skills and qualities do you need to a be a paramedic?'
  • 'What health/NHS issues interest you and why?'
  • 'What relevant work experience/voluntary work have you done?'
  • An ethical question – for example: 'Is it better to treat someone in hospital or at home?'

For specific advice on paramedic interviews:
  • Visit the College of Paramedics' interview advice
  • Look for any interview advice on the university websites that you are interested in
  • If you're not clear on what the interview day will involve, then book an open day and ask the university staff directly.

Health and Police Screening

To work as a paramedic, you will have to undergo:
  • Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance and occupational health clearance.
  • Testing for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
 

Paramedic jobs

Common and well-known employers of paramedics



Most paramedics work for the NHS as part of a local Ambulance Trust.

Graduate Prospects note that other employers include:
  • the armed forces
  • HM Prison Service
  • private ambulance services
  • overseas health departments
  • oil and gas exploration companies
  • working for private paramedical agencies for occasions such as sporting fixtures, major events or on film and TV sets.

Where to find paramedic jobs

Vacancies for Graduate Paramedics (your first role after leaving university) or Student Paramedics are normally on NHS Jobs. Alternatively, look at vacancy information on the Ambulance Service Trust websites.

As the vast majority of paramedics will start with an NHS Ambulance Service Trust, you should start by exploring the careers information on your Local Ambulance Trust Website.  

Each ambulance service has its own policy own how it recruits its paramedics:

 

Average paramedic starting salaries

Salaries for paramedics range from £23,000 when starting, to £37,000 if you are very experienced.  

These earnings are in the average range when compared to other jobs, but money is probably not the main reason why people become paramedics. It's more likely the opportunity to help people in need that stands out to individuals.

Related or similar jobs and careers

 

Where to find more information



Browse our full careers advice section, including tips on writing your CV or cover letter, making the most from work experience and more.

Also, our subject guides can show you the different job paths different degree subjects can lead to.

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