Roles within Critical Care and HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) are really sought-after and I, like other Specialist Paramedics and doctors at the charity, feel really fortunate to be able to support Devon Air Ambulance within one of these roles. Here's a little bit about how I came to serve Devon Air Ambulance as a Critical Care Paramedic.

How to become a Critical Care Paramedic

Some of my colleagues began in Care Assistant or Technician roles before qualifying. My career began working for the ambulance service and responding to 999 calls and then I decided to undertake a degree.

After university I needed to develop my practice and confidence by tending a lot of different situations and managing a variety patients facing sickness or injury.

Next I needed to back up my qualification by gaining practical experience, developing my clinical experience and confidence, which required managing a variety of sick and injured patients and attending a host of different situations. Most air ambulances ask for a minimum of 3 -5 years of post-registration experience before you can be considered for interview.

The HEMS application

Both exceptional clinical skills development acquired through working as a paramedic, and continued professional development is required to be a HEMS applicant.

To become specialist practitioners, candidates must show how they can meet the 4 Pillars of Advanced Practice: Clinical Excellence, Education, Leadership and Research. Mentorship or clinical teaching experience and participating in quality improvement projects is useful here too, as well as volunteering time and making the most of opportunities available while working in the ambulance service.

What's special about working for a charity?

Working for a HEMS unit often means you are also part of a charity. Part of the role it to help support the charity in its fundraising, because without local community support, air ambulance charities couldn't operate. Therefore clinicians lend some of our time to being present at events, so the public can chat to us and truly understand how their support helps to save lives.

Charities are keen that applicants are aware of this, so having voluntary experience on your CV really helps your chances of securing your desired role.

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What is involved in training to be a Specialist in Critical Care?

It's a steep learning curve, and as well as becoming a critical care provider, HEMS paramedics also undertake the role of Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Technical Crew member (HTC), which is a recognised aviation role and so we come under some of the regulations that govern pilots and other flight crew.

It's a 3-week training programme which covers everything from aviation principles, legislation and basic understanding of the systems on board the helicopter, to refuelling, navigation, meteorology and various other subjects that allow us to contribute to the safe operation of the aircraft. It's essential we continue to refine this knowledge in practice as part of the operational crew assisting with HEMS site selection, night flying and radio communications.

A Masters with Devon Air Ambulance

At the time of writing this it's May 2021 and I have a third of my 3-year Master’s programme remaining. The course has been designed by Devon Air Ambulance to cover the advanced training and education requirements that are part of becoming an SPCC and it covers advanced diagnostic reasoning, anaesthetic and ventilation principles, critical care medicine, as well as research and critical analysis modules.

This is coupled with daily simulation on-base, reflection on every case we attend, and in-depth governance sessions during which the team learns from each others' experience. The learning is ongoing and there are always new pathologies to encounter and our skills are continually adjusting. 

There is a lot to becoming a Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care, but the the role is incredibly rewarding.

Josh is very happy to respond to questions on his experience and to expand on his discussion here. Contact him at: [email protected]

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