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How to become a paramedic

You'll need a degree in Paramedic Science to become a qualified paramedic. Pre-registration undergraduate degree programmes take 3 years, and postgraduate programmes take 2 years.

What is a paramedic?

Paramedics use their critical thinking and dynamic decision-making skills to assess and manage a wide-ranging and unpredictable caseload safely and effectively. It commonly includes treating urgent or minor illnesses and providing an emergency response to medical and traumatic events. Paramedics often 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 as a paramedic

Choosing subjects at school

To become a paramedic, useful school subjects include:

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

Speak to your guidance teacher about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, so you can apply directly from school, or go to college first.

College courses

You may decide to do an HNC or HND in a health or science-based subject at college. You could then apply to university to do an undergraduate degree programme in Paramedic Science.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you're an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP).

Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Pre-registration paramedic degree

To become a paramedic, you'll need to complete a pre-registration degree programme at university. Undergraduate programmes take 3 years full-time to complete. In Scotland, 5 universities offer undergraduate programmes in Paramedic Science:

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

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

At university, you'll have lectures, online learning activities, and clinical simulation training, where you'll learn the core skills you need. You'll also have practice placement opportunities with the Scottish Ambulance Service to prepare you for a career as a paramedic.

After graduation, you must register with the HCPC. You can then apply as a newly qualified paramedic for vacancies with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

As a paramedic, you'll use your skills to assess the person's condition and manage their care safely and effectively. Incidents can include:

  • responding to road traffic collisions of varying severity, which may include multiple, or life-threatening injuries
  • providing medical help to a person who has suffered a stroke or heart attack
  • transferring a very sick baby to a specialist treatment centre
  • responding to a call from a pregnant woman in labour or with medical problems
  • treating minor injuries and illnesses that can be discharged or referred to other services

In this role you'll:

  • respond to 999 medical emergency calls
  • provide an immediate course of treatment in a pre-hospital environment, such as the scene of an accident
  • provide advanced life support - resuscitation and defibrillation
  • make clinical decisions about treatment options for patients with long-term medical conditions who have urgent medical needs
  • manage severe bleeding, dress wounds, apply splints, give pain relief and carry out some surgical procedures in emergency and urgent situations
  • immobilise traumatic injuries using specialist techniques and equipment
  • administer oxygen and medication to treat patients and stabilise them for transport to hospital
  • clean, decontaminate, and check ambulance vehicles and equipment to ensure operational readiness and adherence to Healthcare Associated Infection (HAI) protocols

Valuable skills for paramedics include:

  • caring
  • communicating
  • decision-making
  • leading
  • problem-solving
  • critical thinking

You'll also need a C1 driving licence and excellent driving skills. You'll also be supported to complete an advanced emergency driving programme, so you can drive an emergency ambulance vehicle using blue lights.

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

  • allied health professionals
  • ambulance technicians
  • doctors
  • nurses
  • mental health teams
  • coast guard
  • fire service
  • police

You could work in:

  • ambulance stations
  • GP practices
  • minor injury units

Sometimes you'll work independently and reach the patient by using:

  • an emergency response car
  • a motorbike
  • a bicycle

Depending on the nature of the emergency, you may need to call for backup from an ambulance crew or other emergency services.

You could work in a 2-person ambulance crew. You would assess and provide essential treatment to stabilise the patient. They can then be transferred safely to hospital or remain at home if they need to be referred to other health and social care services.

It is essential to keep in contact with the ambulance control room staff, to provide location and status updates on the patient's condition. When the appropriate course of action has been decided, a handover to other healthcare professionals is required to maintain continuity of patient care.

Learning and development

During your career, you'll keep your knowledge and skills up to date using 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 skills.

The Scottish Ambulance Service will also support you to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. It provides annual 'learning in practice' training opportunities with the service and other agencies, including the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and NHS retrieval teams.

Career progression

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

  • Air Ambulance
  • Specialist Operations Response Team (SORT)
  • an 'out of hours' urgent care team

With further training and experience, you could progress to clinical, education, or management roles.

Find out more about the diverse and wide-ranging opportunities for paramedics on the College of Paramedics website.

Professional bodies

When you become a qualified paramedic, you must register with the HCPC to work in the NHS. You can also join the College of Paramedics.

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