Section Commander to Student Paramedic

My name is Matt Kenyon; I served as a corporal and section commander on II SQN RAF Regiment, which is an airborne unit. I served for nine years from 2005-2014 completing four full operational tours (3 in Afghanistan and one in Iraq).

My best tour was working on the MERT (Medical Emergency Response Team) as force protection and fire team commander on my last tour in Helmand.

During my last operational tour of Afghanistan I found myself wanting a career change and more stability after being inspired and humbled by the professionalism of the MERT team. I felt that they walked on water and could treat any injury and deal with any situation that arose; their god-like medical abilities influenced me to seek a piece of the action.

I had been fortunate enough to be the fire team commander on the MERT; our role was to protect the MERT team, aircrew and chinook whilst it was grounded and awaiting the arrival of the casualty, or casualties, in need of extrication. We witnessed firsthand how this team of regular, and reservist, paramedics and doctors worked tirelessly treating the most severely wounded casualties, often whilst flying tactically over Helmand Province.

I looked at my options and it didn’t look good; I barely scraped my 5 GCSE’s and I have never considered myself as particularly ‘academic’. Whilst still on tour I questioned the on-job role of a paramedic and asked how they managed to get where they were today. I received lots of information and help, although sadly it looked like a re-trade or an access course as I didn’t have the correct qualifications to enter university. A re-trade was not available due to manning issues and the university access course would have added another year onto what is already a three year course. In addition, there was the issue of securing a student loan and the worry of having to pay it off for years to come. I decided that university was not a realistic option. I wanted to train as a paramedic, but also a training option that was quick and offered as much on the road exposure as possible.

I did some research on the internet and found that some NHS Trusts recruited student paramedics and required only minimal GCSE grades; I also found that almost the whole process was on the road-training and that you were paid throughout. This appealed to me greatly as I think of myself as more of a ‘hands-on’ learner, rather than being ‘academic’; I realised that there would be some aspect of academic work, although the prospect of this was nowhere near as daunting as the thought of four years at university, a large student loan with less on the road experience.

Unfortunately, the tempo on tour picked up and I was out on the ground, unable to reach facilities to research any further; I had to leave this pipe dream until I was home and safe. When eventually home and back to work after post operational deployment leave (PODL), I was sitting in the barracks and I saw an advert on the local news. The advert stated that due to the declining number of paramedics, the East of England Ambulance Service Trust was about to undertake an exceptionally large recruitment drive for student paramedics. I loaded the NHS job search website immediately and found the relevant application form; I spent a couple of hours filling it out and after triple checking what I had written, I sent it off. The application form had the usual information boxes and requested references from former and current employers. It also requested a brief 2000 word  description on your current job anrole. The whole process was fairly quick and easy and two weeks after sending off my CV, I had a letter informing me that I had been successful and was invited to attend a local interview assessment day.

The assessment day comprised of GCSE level maths and english literature tests and a test of the Highway Code; I revised for the maths and english tests with GCSE bitesize online which was a good asset in restoring knowledge  and gaining some academic confidence.

The Trust were looking to recruit 800 student paramedics over a 2 year period; on that day we were told that for every five people in the room, fifty people had been rejected. This seemed a bit daunting but showed just how much interest there was for this role. After a two week wait, I received an email stating that I had successfully passed the first interview stage and was invited to undertake the  second at the headquarters in Chelmsford. I was given a variety of dates and times to choose from which allowed me to arrange a time around my position at work.

The second stage of the interview process involved an hour long interview, a CAT C driving test and a fitness test. The interview was based around my knowledge on the daily role of a paramedic and what the role offers on a professional and personal level; the East of England Ambulance Service Trust itself, its capabilities and the service it provides and; the demographic area that it serves. The fitness test comprised of some basic fitness tests; a breeze compared with any military tests and the driving assessment was roughly an hour long and the instructor observed your driving style and ability whilst driving along. The final test of the day was a health test, which involved a blood pressure and urine test. It was at this point that I signed a provisional contract detailing which of the six counties I wanted to work in and how much notice I would need to give my current employer; thankfully I was coming to the end of my nine year contract and had the ability to leave the forces within six months.

After an agonising wait of roughly three weeks I found out I had been successful and was offered the job; I told my Flight Commander, handed in my notice and booked myself onto some resettlement courses, just in case things didn’t pan out as I planned. The last tests I had to undertake were a blood test and a DBS check; the blood test was done locally at a GP surgery and the DBS check was sent off and funded by the trust. It took about four weeks for the results to come back. If you have any prior convictions declare them at the outset, the Trust are very supportive; my local police station were also helpful in providing me with information and advising me on problems which may have arisen. Overall, the trust were extremely helpful and supported my application despite a few discrepancies.

Once I had finished my resettlement and sorted out my annual and terminal leave, I informed the trust of my availability to work and a date was set for my new career to start; I started my eight week long training course in October 2014. The eight week course is very intense and requires commitment; it was fifty percent  theory and fifty percent practical. I found the course well balanced and enjoyed it thoroughly even though I found myself revising daily for long periods of time; it’s a small price to pay for what you want to achieve. The course teaches you the basics required to undertake a position as a crew member on an ambulance and how to deliver emergency treatment at your level.

After successful completion of the clinical course we had a small break before undertaking our three week driving course; the course involved learning how to drive safely whilst under blue light conditions and what to expect from the general public. Over the course we undertook journeys of varying distances, driving all over the east of England and as far afield as Southampton; we even managed to go to a local RAF base and drive on a skid pan. The training was invaluable.

After completing the initial clinical and driving courses, you are eligible to start work from an ambulance station in your chosen area; I started on New Year’s Eve which was daunting. I was still in the military mind-set and was unsure how the transition to ‘civvy street’ would unfold. It was smoother and easier than I could ever have imagined. My first day was spent being introduced to a wonderful team of paramedic mentors who took us on a tour of the local stations; we were shown facilities and fire exits, all things you would expect when starting a new job. From that point onwards we would be let loose on the general public and put our newly acquired skills to use and start treating patients.

I was extremely nervous and anxious about my first shift but was put at ease by the friendly, professional staff and pleasant manner in which I was received. Road staff are aware of the clinical remit of students who are fresh out of training; they are also aware of the stress and emotions which students experience in their first few shifts on the road. All have been in the same position and empathise with the pressures and demands of the job itself.

Since starting, I have returned to training school three times to undertake various practical and theoretical assessments; the workload and revision can be daunting, although help is always on hand if needed and if you are  willing to put the effort in, you will reap the rewards. At the end of the first year you submit a written reflective case study of approximately 2000 words, a completed portfolio and clinical skills sign off. You also submit a log of the hours you work with a qualified member of staff. Once you have achieved the required standard you are eligible to wear technician epilates and go out on the road with another crew mate working as a fully qualified  technician. The second year of training is comprised of a 44-week university course; this consists of clinical placements, training in further skills and involves more practical and theoretical assessments.

Since joining, I have attended a variety of calls ranging from elderly patients who have fallen over and are unable to get up, GP urgent transfers, traumatic injuries and unfortunately cardiac arrests. If you’re expecting this job to be nothing but car accidents and full on trauma jobs you will be disappointed. My expectation was that I would be working as they do in TV programmes like ‘Helicopter Heroes’ and I would be undertaking time critical jobs daily; thankfully this isn’t the case although it does happen and this is when you earn your money.

There is more to this job than just saving lives and taking people to hospital. As well slick drills and quick-thinking you need empathy, compassion, a caring nature and the ability to offer support and sympathy to the patient,  their family and even your colleagues during difficult times. The support on offer for us as employees is excellent and always available.

I have no regrets about leaving the military although I took the job security for granted; sadly if you fail anything in the training process more than twice you could lose your job. The positive to this, however, is the drive and determination it gives you to succeed and complete the daily challenges you face. I believe this job appeals to military personnel due to the freedom and autonomy afforded by the role and also the variety you experience daily. No single job is the same and no single job has the same outcome; you are tested daily both physically and mentally. The shifts can be long and tiring and can put strain on family and social life, but it’s nothing compared to leaving loved ones for a six month tour or feeling like you are not in control of your life. When not working you have lots of time off to complete various assessments, revision and spend time with family and friends renewing the  bonds taken by the strain of military life.

This job also provides many opportunities to further your career. When registered as a paramedic the possibilities are endless; you could become a critical care paramedic working on the air ambulance or rapid response vehicle;  work for a private company providing medical cover at events; join the reservists and keep your foot in the military door, whilst still being supported by the NHS; travel to different countries to medically support people on expeditions or; qualify as an emergency care practitioner and work in a local GP surgery.

I have no regrets about leaving the military and if completely honest the only things I miss are the friends I made and the experiences we shared, however the new people I have met have a wicked sense of humour and share the same work ethos as that in the military. If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding career with excellent career opportunities I highly recommend this job and lifestyle that it offers.

All recruitment is conducted through the NHS portal Use the job search ‘student paramedic’ and select ‘east of England’ as a location. This will take you to the advert where you can apply. Alternatively, the HR Recruitment team will be happy to answer any queries; please call and speak to one of the team on 01234 243045.