A typical day in the life of a paramedic is hectic at best, and ARU student paramedics have the privilege to experience this first-hand with the East of England and London ambulance services from their 3rd trimester.
As a student paramedic, waking up early is something to get used to quickly. All the shifts on my rota started at 6:30 (am or pm) at a station 30 minutes from my house by car. This meant I’d start a typical day shift at 4:30am and be out of the house by 5:45.
Ambulance shifts work differently from most jobs, as we are expected to be ready to respond to any category 1 call that may come in by our start time. This means all pre-shift checks to the vehicle and equipment had to be completed before my start time, as well as any catching up with crewmates.
I chose to arrive earlier for my shifts as I liked to complete the VDI - vehicle daily inspection - to ensure I had everything I needed. This is a job that should be completed before signing on and is one your paramedic mentor will love you for doing.
The VDI simply involves checking you have everything stocked sufficiently in the ambulance and my favourite job, ‘shocking the box,’ where I would test the defibrillator function on our Corpuls (see below).
After this we sign on by tapping our individual IDs into the MDT (quick top tip: write your ID number down because you *will* forget it) and wait for our first job. Sometimes these come through immediately, and sometimes we wait a bit longer. From my experience, sunny days are busier and rainy days move a lot more slowly.
On my placement I chose to spend the first shift just observing the dynamic of my mentor and her crewmate, judging how they work and what they ask in what order etc. Paramedics all work differently and it’s very easy to be thrown off if you switch mentors, so it’s best to try and judge how they work quickly.
For one of my shifts, I was placed with a completely new mentor and I distinctly remember making tons of mistakes and embarrassing myself in front of patients simply because I’d been thrown off by working with new people. It happens to us all, so don’t worry.
When it comes to attending jobs, don’t be scared to throw yourself into your role. As a student paramedic, you’re a part of the crew and aren’t there just to watch. Give some basic observations a go, or some history taking.
The best advice I got from a mentor was that the perfect time to screw up is while you’re a student; you won’t have the excuse when you’re qualified!
I only attended one cardiac arrest (or code 9, as they’re called in EEAST) while on my first-year placement. By the time we arrived the patient’s heart was beating again. We get a lot of code 9 jobs, but it’s surprisingly quite rare that they’re actually in cardiac arrest.
If you do attend an arrest, I highly recommend that you get involved, firstly as it’s great to have extra hands at a scene that will always be crazy, but secondly for your own experience.
Chest compressions on a real person feel massively different even to the expensive and sophisticated mannequins we have in the skills lab. If you do any compressions, don’t be alarmed if you feel any cracking, this is most likely just cartilage. Remember that everything you’re doing is to potentially save a life.
Now onto the important bit: food. The nature of our job means that meal breaks are pretty much never when you want them to be, so keep yourself stocked up on snacks.
During a day shift, it’s a good idea to pack yourself a good lunch as it’s very easy to fall into bad habits (as a victim myself). Night shifts are a lot harder as you’re completely thrown out of your ‘normal’ time cycle.
My best advice is to actively remind yourself to eat and especially to drink water. At night staying hydrated is something you find very easy to forget and then you wake up the next day with the worst headache you can imagine.
At the end of your shift, if you’re not already on a job or at a hospital, your final thirty minutes can only be disturbed by a category 1 call nearby as you slowly nudge your way towards your station. Once you’re safely back, all you need to do is replace anything you’ve used or let the next crew know what’s missing if your ambulance is being taken for their shift.
Now you can head off, and remember that after starting your day at 4am and working 13 hours you still have to drive half an hour back home…
I absolutely loved every second of my placement, and I hope that you will too.
Best of luck 😊
James, BSc (Hons) Paramedic Science