The role of the modern paramedic is one of a highly trained emergency-care professional gone are the days of the ‘stretcher-bearer’ (NHS careers booklet, p10) Paramedics are set the task of providing a rapid medical response to emergency situations like road traffic accidents (RTA’s) accidents at home or even major incidents such as train crashes. This work involves on-site assessment of patients and their immediate needs, as well as providing necessary treatment. For example paramedics are trained to be able to administer intravenous drips and oxygen, and use equipment such as a heart defibrillator on patients that need immediate help.
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Through their work, paramedics are likely to encounter emotionally charged and distressing situations. There is also a danger element involved in the role when patients can become violent towards those trying to help them attacks on ambulance staff from one service have increased 23% over the last year alone (BBC). Paramedics can thus been seen to work within a stressful and pressured work environment, where lives can be affected by the outcome of their actions. This can be made even more difficult by the long working hours (a shift can be 12 hours) and shift pattern involved in the ambulance service. The role therefore has a large amount of responsibility, and the ambulance service has a number of qualities they look for in their applicants.
The NHS careers booklet ‘Becoming a member of the ambulance service’ (p8) lists that as a paramedic, the most important qualities include; responsibility, a caring attitude, good people skills, common sense, ability to keep cool in a crisis and academic ability. Why the ambulance service looks for these qualities will now be discussed.
Intellectual ability identified through academic qualifications is required by the ambulance service. This is due to the amount of training and expert emergency care knowledge that must be gained before someone is able to qualify to work as a paramedic. Hospital and classroom based training is given to paramedics in subjects including trauma injuries, intubation, cannulation, pharmacology, the respiratory system and in how to use specialised equipment.
A paramedic is also required to provide a driving function so must have a clean driving license which will be enhanced through emergency driving training. The ability to learn quickly is therefore a strong point to anyone wanting to join the service.
On arriving at an emergency scene, a paramedic must be able to ascertain both what has happened, and which patients are to be given priority over others. Although other emergency services such as the fire brigade and police will also be present at many call-outs those first on the scene have to be able to quickly assess the situation. This is where the ability to keep a cool head and to not make rash decisions is important. Being able to stay calm despite what might be going on at the scene itself, will allow the paramedic to recall training on how to deal with different injuries, and to make tough decisions when needed about who to treat and perhaps who not to treat (when medical resources are scare a paramedic may have to decide who has the best chance of recovering and allocate assistance accordingly).
Communication and people-skills are a necessity within the job. Good communication skills will allow a more accurate assessment of the situation through uncovering what has happened, how many people were involved (injured parties may not always be immediately visible for example a young child thrown from the window of a car in an RTA) or whether there is any remaining danger.
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As mentioned earlier, assessing whether danger is present (such as whether people at the scene are armed) is important for both the well being of the patient and the ambulance crew themselves. Being able to talk to people and keep both patients and family or others on the scene calm can make the situation easier to control, and maintaining conversation with a patient can help to retrieve important information that may be needed for their treatment (allergies, name of doctor, next of kin) but also to help keep people conscious which may be important for their chances of recovery. As many emergencies can be the result of a crime that has taken place, the ability to preserve evidence and remember information given by injured parties can be very important (for example, people that die later in hospital may have given important information to others at the scene potentially including the paramedic).
The ability to take control in a situation is also an important quality needed for those working in emergency care. Paramedics may often have to direct recovery efforts in a team that may be made up of different emergency services where workers may not know each other, and where time may be of the essence. Leadership qualities are needed in order that control can be taken over a situation, to ensure that resources are allocated where needed, and that work is not being duplicated.
Alongside the qualities discussed that are outlined in the careers booklet provided by the NHS, it will also be important for paramedics to be good team-players and trustworthy. These qualities are proposed as important due to the fact that paramedics may have to work within environments which are not safe. As a result it would be very important for the ambulance crew (usually comprising an ambulance technician and a paramedic, sometimes and emergency doctor) to trust each other and work well together within situations whereby teams may be forced to rely to a great extent possibly for their own well-being, on their team member (s).
In summary the ambulance service are looking for very specific sort of person that matches the qualities outlines above, in order to perform the very difficult and distressing work involved in the emergency services to the capacity that they do London ambulance service alone receives 3000 emergency calls a day.