Paramedic

Paramedics provide an immediate response to accidents and medical emergencies. These situations are likely to involve people who are badly hurt, severely traumatised and seriously ill.

They also have the skills and knowledge to assess and manage a range of less serious illness or injuries. Paramedics often provide care for people in their own homes to help reduce avoidable hospital admissions.

To work in the NHS, paramedics must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as a paramedic, useful subjects include:

  • Human Biology
  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Care
  • Maths
  • English

A Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare, taken in S5 or S6, could help you gain new skills and valuable work experience.

Find out more about apprenticeships at apprenticeships.scot.

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first. At college, you could do an HNC in a health or science-based subject before applying to university to do an undergraduate programme.

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. The Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP) can help you get into higher education if you’re an adult with few or no qualifications. Many universities also provide access programmes to help you gain the degree entry qualifications you need.

In Scotland, five universities offer undergraduate programmes in Paramedic Science or Paramedic Practice:

  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Robert Gordon University
  • University of Stirling
  • University of the West of Scotland

Pre-registration undergraduate programmes take 4 years full-time. Some courses can be done part-time over 6 years.

Search on My World of Work for related further and higher education courses. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

If you already have a relevant qualification and healthcare experience, you can do a master’s in Paramedic Science. These courses usually take 2 years. The HCPC website provides more information about approved pre-registration postgraduate Paramedic Science programmes.

The role

As a paramedic, you would provide a high level of care to patients involved in an accident or emergency, such as:

  • victims of a road traffic accident who have multiple or severe injuries
  • a person who has suffered a stroke or heart attack
  • an elderly person who has fallen down the stairs
  • a sick or ill child or young person
  • a very sick baby being moved to a specialist centre
  • a pregnant woman

Sometimes you would work independently and use an emergency response car, a motorbike or bicycle to reach the patient. Depending on the nature of the emergency, you may need to call for backup from an ambulance crew or other emergency services.

Paramedics also work in a two-person ambulance crew, with an ambulance technician. You would assess and provide essential treatment to resuscitate and stabilise the patient, so they can be transferred safely to hospital. This could include:

  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • using a defibrillator
  • chest decompression
  • controlling bleeding
  • giving oxygen and pain relief medication
  • spinal immobilisation and splinting limbs
  • setting up intravenous drips

It is essential to keep in contact with ambulance control room staff to provide location and status updates on the patient’s condition. As the patient is transferred into the care of doctors and nurses, you would explain their illness or injury and confirm any medication given.

What you’ll do

Some of the typical tasks you would carry out as a paramedic include:

  • responding to 999 medical emergency calls
  • providing an immediate course of treatment in a pre-hospital environment, such as the scene of an accident
  • using equipment such as defibrillators and ventilators to resuscitate and stabilise patients
  • providing care to patients with non-life-threatening illness or injury in their own home, sometimes referring them on to other healthcare professionals for follow-up care
  • cleaning, decontaminating and checking ambulance vehicles and equipment to ensure operational readiness and adherence to Healthcare Associated Infection (HAI) protocols
  • assessing and monitoring the patient’s condition
  • making clinical decisions about the appropriate treatment options for patients with long-term medical conditions who present with urgent medical needs
  • dressing wounds, applying splints, administering pain relief and carrying out some surgical procedures in emergency and urgent situations

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • communication
  • listening
  • caring
  • leadership
  • decision-making
  • critical thinking

You’ll also need a full driving licence and excellent driving skills. As a Paramedic you will be supported to go through an advanced emergency driving programme, so you can drive an emergency ambulance vehicle using blue lights.

Who you’ll work with

Paramedics work with other healthcare professionals and emergency services, including:

Working environment

You could work in:

  • GP practices
  • minor injury units
  • ambulance stations

Useful information

To work as a paramedic in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

In the year 2017 – 2018 the Scottish Ambulance Service received over 1.4 million calls, responded to 764,201 A&E incidents and flew 3,721 air ambulance missions. There are more than 25,500 registered paramedics in the UK and over 1,500 working in NHSScotland.

Learning and development

Once qualified as a paramedic and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), you can join the College of Paramedics.

During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with annual Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The College of Paramedics is one group that will provide you with opportunities to develop your clinical, educational, managerial, and research abilities during your career.

The Scottish Ambulance Service will also support you to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. This includes yearly ‘learning in practice’ training and CPD opportunities with the service and other agencies, including the fire service and NHS retrieval teams.

Career progression

You could choose to join one of the specialist teams in the Scottish Ambulance Service, such as:

  • working on an Air Ambulance
  • the Specialist Operations Response Team (SORT)
  • an ‘out of hours’ urgent care team

With further training and experience, Paramedics can progress to Clinical, Educational or Management roles.