What Is a Paramedic? (With Duties and Essential Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 23, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Paramedics perform one of the leading roles in the emergency medical sector. They're responsible for offering first aid and overseeing various emergency protocols with patients outside hospitals and other health care facilities. Learning about paramedics and their duties can help determine if this career path is a good fit. In this article, we answer the question "What is a paramedic?", outline a paramedic's duties, discuss the skills essential for success, and highlight tips to help you qualify as a paramedic.

What is a paramedic?

To understand the range of duties that paramedics complete as first responders in medical emergencies, you may want to learn the answer to the question, "What is a paramedic?" Paramedics are medical professionals who operate outside medical facilities, either in ambulances or other emergency vehicles, to offer emergency care to patients. When patients need further medical attention, they also oversee the transportation of patients to a health care facility and ensure they remain stable during transit. Paramedics differ from an emergency medical responder (EMR), who performs less advanced functions. Paramedics are also responsible for administering medication and filing reports.

Related: How to Become a Paramedic (With a Step-By-Step Guide)

Paramedic duties

Here are some of the daily duties that paramedics fulfil in their role:

Responding to emergencies

Responding to emergencies is one of a paramedic's primary duties. This involves answering emergency calls and communicating effectively to reassure patients. These patients may be experiencing shock or trauma from a health condition, accident, or natural disaster. Paramedics also contact relevant health care facilities to prepare them for incoming emergency patients.

Assessing and treating patients

Paramedics assess patients to determine the best course of treatment for their emergencies. This duty extends from selecting the most effective first aid method to choosing a suitable antidote to administer. When assessing a patient, paramedics also determine if the patient has any underlying conditions to ensure treatments suit their medical needs.

Related: What Is Patient-Centred Care? (With Elements and Benefits)

Operating equipment

Paramedics use various pieces of equipment to provide necessary emergency health care services. Many medical emergencies require the equipment to operate efficiently to keep patients stable or resuscitate them. The equipment paramedics use varies in complexity, including mechanical breathing devices, intravenous catheters, defibrillators, bag valve masks, and electrocardiograms.

Transporting patients

Paramedics aim to get to the patient needing urgent help as quickly as possible so they can cater to their needs. In fulfilling this responsibility, paramedics usually use emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, to navigate the fastest route to the patient in need. Paramedics monitor patients' vital signs when travelling to health care facilities to ensure they remain stable. They also sanitize the emergency vehicles before and after transporting emergency patients. Such measures help contain infectious diseases and protect patients.

Filing reports

Another vital duty paramedics fulfil involves filing patient reports for relevant health care facilities. Various elements of a paramedic's interactions with an emergency patient can form a report. For instance, filing a report after transporting an emergency patient with an infectious disease is vital. Paramedics also file reports to help guide the actions of the professionals who subsequently deal with emergency patients. These reports can include the emergency medications administered, underlying conditions, and the nature of the emergency.

Read more: Information Report Example: Definition, Types, and Formats

Appointing and training new hires

Paramedics function within medical units, making it essential for them to appoint capable and trustworthy staff to ensure the optimal performance of their duties. This duty involves selecting teams to work together in an emergency vehicle. Paramedics are also responsible for training the staff they appoint and other relevant staff at health care facilities to ensure they remain updated with medical protocols and best practices. Adequate training helps the professionals they collaborate with offer valuable assistance during emergencies.

Essential skills for a paramedic

Here are some of the skills essential to fulfilling your duties as a paramedic:

Communication

Communication skills are the competencies that help professionals relay information effectively to each other. As a paramedic, you employ this skill in various capacities when completing your responsibilities. For instance, strong communication skills help you communicate effectively with the professionals accompanying you in emergency vehicles and receiving patients into health care facilities. You can also use these skills when interacting with patients to better respond to emergencies, understand their medical condition, and provide adequate care.

Related: 7 Ways to Communicate Effectively (Plus Benefits and Tips)

Interpersonal

Interpersonal skills help professionals establish effective relationships with their colleagues and other staff. Applying this skill as a paramedic helps you foster resilient teams and interact with empathy. Fostering a solid team enables you to perform your duties effectively by aligning your efforts with a teammate toward a common objective. Similarly, engaging empathetically with patients gives you a better insight into their condition. You can also use interpersonal skills to ensure a patient remains stable by explaining the benefits of a procedure or reassuring them when they are nervous about receiving specific treatments.

Technical knowledge

Technical knowledge refers to a professional's understanding of their respective field's core terminologies, concepts, and processes. As a paramedic, you apply specialized knowledge of various medical processes and concepts when responding to emergencies. Such knowledge helps you identify conditions such as heart attacks, asthma attacks, and respiratory seizures. Your technical knowledge also plays a significant role when handling pieces of equipment, which helps you respond effectively to emergencies.

Read more: What Is Medical Terminology? (With Examples and Definitions)

Observation

Observational skills are the traits that help professionals remain aware of their surroundings, situations, and patients. As a paramedic, you may apply this skill when performing your duties by observing the people around you and ensuring everyone stays safe. During observations, you can identify potential health hazards and ensure everyone at risk follows safety protocols. For example, you can apply these skills when urging people to keep a safe distance from an emergency patient struggling to breathe.

Organization

Organizational skills refer to the traits professionals use to establish a sense of order and remain productive. As a paramedic, your organizational skills can help you create and update staffing schedules to ensure your colleagues feel rested when accompanying you on emergency trips. These skills also enable you to identify the level of medical equipment stock available in an emergency vehicle or the functionality of medical equipment. Identifying these can help determine the best time to restock an ambulance or service equipment. Paramedics also apply their organizational skills when preparing and submitting reports.

Decision-making

Decision-making skills help professionals analyze scenarios and make informed decisions. Emergency health care requires considering various options before deciding on the best treatment and actions to ensure a patient's safety. As a paramedic, you use quick decision-making skills while carefully considering each patient's unique needs and situation. Decision-making skills help you fulfill staffing, navigation, and equipment operation duties.

Read more: How to Make a Difficult Decision in 8 Simple Steps

Physical fitness

The role of a paramedic includes performing optimally in physical activities and enduring considerable physical strain. It's crucial for paramedics to remain physically fit to meet their role's demands. Being physically fit can help you lift patients into emergency vehicles, perform procedures like cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and operate medical equipment.

Tips for starting a career as a paramedic

Here are some tips that can help you start your career as a paramedic:

Pursue an EMR certification

Many people with interests in health care or medicine who prefer a short period of academic study start their careers as paramedics. You can begin your career by pursuing a relevant EMR certification. An EMR certification offers training in taking vital signs, administering basic life support, managing burns, and controlling bleeding. This is a good foundation for the more advanced processes that come with your role as a paramedic. EMR certifications vary across provinces and territories, and verifying with the relevant governing body is essential to ensure you're gaining appropriate professional training.

Gather experience

Paramedics handle more advanced medical procedures than EMRs. This disparity makes it essential to gather experience as an EMR to help you establish a career as a paramedic. Experience can also help you observe how paramedics function in their role and qualify you for more advanced EMR or paramedic certification.

Pursue a paramedic certification

With your experience as an EMR, you're better prepared to pursue a paramedic certification. The requirements for such certifications vary across provinces and territories. For example, some provinces provide certification for paramedics in categories including primary care, intermediate care, advanced care, and critical care. The modules of these certifications provide advanced technical knowledge in patient assessment, trauma management, patient stabilization, and cardiology.

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