Student Paramedic Saturdays: Chapter 1

How I became a student paramedic and getting onto a paramedic science degree

As some of you know I am currently back at university studying Paramedic Science and I am just about to embark on my third and final year. (Can we not, how the hell did I get here). My route onto a Paramedic Science degree isn’t exactly your most typical one and I get about 1-2 messages a week from various people asking me how I made the career change and what the course entails etc, and how I became an ‘ambulance driver’, lol. But it worked out for me, so I thought I should share my story just in case it helps anybody else out there too.

In 2018 it hit me, I have to make a change. Since graduating from the University of Brighton in 2015 with a degree in Bsc(hons) Geography I had worked in offices as a facilities administrator and an SEO Outreach Executive, as well as dabbling in various contract work doing digital marketing, and it slowly started to dawn on me that I just could not work in an office for the rest of my life. I needed a purpose. I needed a daily challenge. I needed a varied work load. I needed a job that was caring and focused around helping people. And then I decided to become a paramedic. And it all just clicked. I had many many talks with parents and friends before deciding that if I really did feel like it was my calling in life, then I just had to go for it. At the end of the day, there was nothing in my way or holding me back and whilst it wasn’t an easy decision by any stretch, it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. It hasn’t been an easy option by any stretch, I gave up my comfortable SEO role with a nice regular salary and income to throw myself into the deep end with a science based degree, with pretty much no caring experience, and of which I had to fund the whole £27k of fees myself….

Which route is for me?

Over the years the ways in which you can become a fully qualified paramedic have become more and more difficult (or at least that’s the impression I’ve got). Fully fledged level 6 degrees aren’t funded by NHS ambulance trusts and the most simple route is to plonk yourself onto a Paramedic Science degree. But this route isn’t for everyone, as it involves jacking in whatever life you may have, to swap it for a full time 3 year degree. They’re also super competitive and courses have pretty limited intakes compared to your regular degree due to the complex variety of skills required. And this is what I majorly struggled to figure out out the beginning.

After a lot of chats with friends in the industry I decided that although I could get an ambulance care assistant (ECA) type job and then try to work my way up internally this could take a long time and I could get to stage of this where they’d also simply say ‘go to uni’ and I’d be back where I am now. The pro to this route is that I would have been earning a wage. I also looked at student paramedic routes available that are offered through trusts. However there didn’t seem to be any available locally and these only bring you up to a 2nd year degree level, and again are SO competitive that I genuinely didn’t think I would stand a chance. It was a lot to weigh up. I could get a direct trust role and work my way up and that could take x amount of years, or I could give everything up (including my full time salary) and do an intense 3 year degree. In the end I decided to quit my job in digital marketing and do the uni route as I was fortunate enough that I had savings to help me out and my super supportive parents and boyfriend.

This was however certainly not an easy route, as throughout my degree I have had to juggle about 2 days in university, 2 days on placement and then 2 days working, a week, to make ends meet. Leaving me with limited time off to myself, however i’ve gotten through everything by knowing that this lifestyle working this way isn’t forever. In fact I’ve managed 2 years of it and it really wasn’t that bad, in fact it’s really shown me that I have such a passion and hunger for the new career i’ve chosen, that the work is more than worth it. Only 1 year to go until I can live a semi normal lifestyle again eh!

The application and interview – clearing 

My application route was also pretty unusual. Quite a few Paramedic Science degree courses start in September, but there are also quite a few that have intakes throughout the year. Such as the University of Bedfordshire who have a January/February intake. I decided that this was the one for me as it meant I could carry on working for a few months, saving up as much as possible and start the year fresh.

I was simply emailing the university on a slight whim when researching semi-local places offering the degree, asking when to apply on UCAS for the January intake and they replied telling me to call up and apply via clearing. Right now? Yes. So I called them up and spent about 30 minutes on the phone to someone in clearing and the next week I was offered an interview. Now by all means I know this isn’t a route a lot of people will go down, but if you do end up going through clearing, I hope this helps.

I attended the interview and there were about 10 of us. All from different backgrounds, a girl who already worked for an ambulance service, a girl who had tried the medicine route with not much luck, and a few other people with a hell of a lot of experience. One of the other candidates mentioned that they only had 2 spaces available and I thought that was it. I had my interview and thought meh, that’s that dream, dashed. Back to work I go. I had a tour of the uni and left to go home, feeling deflated. As I was about to drive home I noticed I had a missed call from the uni. And there was a voicemail. And the voicemail said I had GOT A PLACE. I’d got a place on a highly competitive paramedic science degree. I’ve literally never cried like I did when I got that call. It’s quite funny to look back on. I was sat in a car park in the middle of Luton listening to the voicemail just sobbing away on my own. Anyone driving past must have thought I was not okay,

I’m aware my process was a pretty snappy one and typically when you apply for the Paramedic Science degree on UCAS, you will then be invited along to an application day with an interview and potentially assessments, before then being offered either a conditional or unconditional offer. I think I was quite lucky in that I already had a BSC degree, 4 alevels (and 2 AS levels), and that my English, Maths and science GCSES were all B’s and above, that and some decent life experience behind me, as the university knew that I knew this as exactly what I wanted.

Finance and funding 

Now. My favourite part. Can you sense the eye roll? Through the whole process I’ve truly realised what a shambles the NHS is with regards to paramedics. There are UK wide shortages, people waiting for hours on end during emergency situations, but we’re not eligible for a second student finance loan, any grants, loans, or help with funding the second time round. This is the main reason it’s been such a difficult life changing decision for me. As on top of the £9,250 a year I’m paying in university fees, I have to find my travel and living costs, as well as work for 750+ hours on placement for free.

Obviously if this was my first degree I would be eligible for regular student finance for the fees, and a maintenance loan. But as I already have a pointless geography degree I am not. Some courses that fall under an ‘allied healthcare profession’ such as dentists, radiographers etc are eligible for a second loan. Pure bonkers right?

There is also additional support now for student paramedics which it great, it is a £5,000 bursary (per year) which unfortunately is not available to students on a second degree/not eligible for student finance. Yeah that sucks….

So that is my experience of the application process in becoming a student paramedic, although I am super aware that the process can massively vary from trust to trust and university to university.

If you have any questions, do let me know as I know it can definitely be a daunting time 🙂
Sophie x