How To Become a Paramedic (with duties and skills)

Updated 21 September 2023

If you're interested in the healthcare industry and enjoy providing an immediate response to emergency calls, a career as a paramedic might be for you. With the ability to make a real difference in the lives of people, you may find this career fulfilling. Learning about the different requirements to become a paramedic can help you determine whether this career is a good fit for you.

In this article, we describe what a paramedic is, how to become one and what to expect in a paramedic's daily working environment.

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What does a paramedic do?

A paramedic, also known as an emergency medical technician, responds to emergency call-outs and administers medical aid to people during emergencies. They are typically first on the scene at an accident or medical emergency, where they provide care and try to stabilise the patient on their way to the hospital. The level of care they provide ranges from life-threatening injuries to small illnesses, and it is their job to determine the necessary level of care needed in any situation.

Paramedics often treat medical cases in the patient's residence and discuss the patient's options. In life-threatening situations, however, a range of interventions might be required, including:

  • Resuscitating patients

  • Preventing severe hemorrhaging

  • Applying traction and spinal splints

  • Administering oxygen, medicine and intravenous drips

  • Establishing and maintaining a patent's airway using a stepwise approach

  • Using high-tech emergency medical equipment, such as end-tidal oxygen, pulse oximeters and defibrillators

  • Working with other emergency services such as the coast guard, fire, police and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)

Related: A Guide on Careers That Make a Difference in People's Lives

Salary and benefits for paramedics

Paramedic salaries in the UK are covered by the National Health Service (NHS) Agenda for Change pay scales. After two years following a newly qualified paramedic pathway, paramedics often move up to a higher band. According to Indeed Salaries, on average, paramedics make £33,484 per year in the UK.

Senior paramedics or team leaders who have completed extended skills training in trauma or critical care may receive a Band 6/7 salary. Paramedics working in a GP practice or primary care may expect to gain Band 7 after a year. If they advance to a consultant paramedic, they could receive a Band 8c salary.

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

Related: Paramedic resume keyword examples (with steps and example)

Paramedic working environment

Paramedics sometimes work indoors and outdoors, as they may have to respond to an emergency anywhere. They administer medical care at the accident scene and may continue to treat patients in the ambulance. Their work environment can be strenuous, stressful and sometimes dangerous. They carry out many physical tasks that can put them at risk for injury or contagious viruses.

Paramedics also work long hours at various times throughout the day. Some shifts may be from 12 to 24 hours, including nights and weekends. Usually, they will be on a rotating shift schedule so they can have long breaks between 24-hour shifts.

Related: How to find the best jobs for you

How to become a paramedic

A certain level of education and experience is necessary to become a paramedic, but you can strengthen your CV by taking the following steps:

1. Get the qualifications

One of the common routes to becoming a paramedic is to complete a full-time course at university and then apply to the ambulance service as a qualified paramedic. The educational qualifications needed to be a paramedic are either a foundation degree, a diploma or a degree in paramedic practice or paramedic science.

To apply for the course, you need to obtain the following:

  • A full driving licence

  • Three A-levels, including sciences

  • Five General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSE) at grade 4 or higher, including science, maths and English language

Related: GCSE Equivalent Qualifications

2. Gain experience

You may become a paramedic without formal education, either through an apprenticeship or work experience. To get an apprenticeship, you need to earn four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4, and A levels, or equivalent. Apprenticeships pay well and put you on track to becoming a paramedic after a few years of experience, depending on the organisation.

You can apply directly to the ambulance service as a student paramedic, also known as a trainee paramedic, and study while you work. To apply for a trainee position, you need at least five GCSEs at grade 4 or above, including science, maths and English. You also need a good level of physical fitness and at least two years of driving experience.

Related: A guide to degrees for paramedics: skills, careers and salaries

3. Earn certifications

To work as a paramedic, you also need to obtain the following certifications:

  • First aid certificate: First aid training goes over techniques to use in an emergency, such as how to treat an unconscious patient, control of bleeding, burns and basic life support. The organisation or university you are studying with to become a paramedic will usually provide this training and subsequent certificate, but you can also receive training from organisations like the British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance.

  • Health and Care Professions Council Certification: All paramedics are required to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC sets standards for paramedics and other public professionals. You must register and meet the standards of the HCPC to be and remain a paramedic.

  • Enhanced criminal record certificate: All paramedics need to undertake an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check in Wales and England, Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme check in Scotland or Access Northern Ireland check to train as a paramedic.

  • C1 driving licence: To drive the ambulance, you need to have a C1 driving licence. To get a C1 driving licence, you need to pass the driving course, gain a minimum of 12 months of driving experience and have a manual car (Cat B) licence.

Related: A comprehensive guide to paramedic apprenticeships

Necessary paramedic skills

Aside from certification and training, you'll need several skills to succeed. These skills include:

  • General knowledge of healthcare and medicine: As a paramedic, you have to be able to assess and provide basic treatment of medical injuries. This includes staying up-to-date on the latest treatment techniques and common injuries and illnesses.

  • Excellent verbal communication: Paramedics respond to emergencies in a group, so you must communicate clearly and quickly with each other. You have to be able to get information from the patient to decide on the best course of treatment. Also, you need to clearly communicate to the hospital the event that transpired and what treatment the patient received.

  • Knowledge of public safety and security: You have to be familiar with the city or town you are working in and understand the importance of public safety in the area. You also need to know how to navigate traffic and congested areas in the town. You have to find the quickest route to the hospital without endangering civilians.

  • Sensitivity and understanding: As a paramedic, you will often treat patients right after an accident when the patient is in shock and pain. You have to understand how to soothe and calm the patient so the emergency doesn't escalate. You also have to be able to talk calmly to the patient's relatives and explain the situation while showing sympathy and understanding of what they are going through.

  • Customer service skills: While you need to treat people as patients, you also have to provide excellent customer service as you are representing a larger organisation such as the NHS. You have to treat all patients with respect and try to answer all their questions about what is going on.

  • The ability to remain calm in stressful situations: Part of keeping patients calm is staying calm yourself. This is a high-pressure job, and the decisions you make can affect a person's life. To make such important decisions quickly, you have to be confident in your technical knowledge and experience. Therefore, prior volunteering and training are important to the job.

  • Knowledge of computers and basic software: After treating and stabilising patients, you have to keep accurate records of the patient. This usually involves using the software package provided by the organisation you work for.

Related: Important paramedic skills and how to develop them

Frequently asked questions about how to become a paramedic

The following questions are frequently asked about how to become a paramedic:

How long does it take to become a paramedic?

If you decide to go to university to become a paramedic, it will take three years to receive a paramedic science degree. An apprenticeship or paramedic scheme will usually involve one to three years of training before you become a registered paramedic.

Can I become a paramedic without a medical degree?

A paramedic science degree is not necessary to become a paramedic. If you don't have a degree in paramedic science, you can complete a paramedic apprenticeship or become an ambulance care assistant in place of a degree.

What are the advancement opportunities for paramedics?

After a few years of experience as a paramedic, you could become a team leader, specialist paramedic or emergency care practitioner. You could also advance to other areas of healthcare such as nursing or healthcare administration.

Related: What Does an Aid Worker do? (With Skills)

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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