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Charity And Students Benefit From Enterprising Placement Programme

ellenor has teamed up with Greenwich and Canterbury Christchurch Universities to offer important placement opportunities to students.

Supported by Health Education England, the placements are designed to give people starting a career in nursing or paramedics science a valuable insight into all areas of the profession. For ellenor, the students also enrich the support on offer to patients and families.

The students often already have the qualities needed in end-of-life care, so both ellenor and the university see the placements as mutually beneficial.

Austin Parsons, Senior Lecturer in Paramedics Science at Greenwich, says: “To become a paramedic, as well as academic ability, you need empathy and a desire to help people. You need to show kindness and support and be able to engage with people. Communication is important and the placements help with that. The students need to feel comfortable talking to people. To some of them this comes naturally, but others need to learn these skills.

“Placements are an important part of our students’ academic development and also teach them to build good relationships.”

Part of a paramedic’s role is to communicate not only with the patient but with family members, which can be especially distressing if their loved one is at end of life. In these cases, the family are looking for reassurance, all skills the students learn while working with the nurses at ellenor.

Austin says: “Traditionally placements take place within ambulance service and hospitals, but we like to offer other options such as end of life care. It is something key to the role of a paramedic. They often encounter patients undergoing palliative care and this can be an area of anxiety for them.

“Student placements make them think about what happens next after a patient leaves their care. Working in different situations gives them exposure, and they can share what they have learned with other students.

“It is good to learn new skills, to be able to talk to people about dying or manage palliative care and make decisions. Dealing with a patient who is at end of life is a very different situation to one of the calls they would be more likely to expect, to a cardiac arrest for instance.”

Austin explains that in many emergency situations dealt with by paramedics, they work as part of a team with other health professionals, but if they are called to a patient who is near the end of their life, a very different approach may be required, and they may be called on to make quick decisions.

He says: “It’s still all about what is in the best interests of the patient, but what they are trying to achieve is different.”

Austin believes it is good for his students to experience a whole range of patient encounters, including in ITU and maternity wards. Having practised himself for 13 years as a paramedic with the Ambulance Service in Dartford and Gravesend, Austin was always aware of ellenor and the patients with life limiting illnesses that it helps.

He says: “During my time as a practicing paramedic I dealt with ellenor in my professional role. And we did do a Tough Mudder to raise money for them at one stage. People in the area all know what the hospice is and what ellenor does for the community.”

Austin admits that in an ideal world the university would give all its students experience in every area of healthcare.

He says: “The traditional idea that paramedics deal only with heart attacks and car accidents is no longer true. TV dramas have always led to a misconception. In fact, paramedics are very involved in social care and mental health, dealing with patients where there is no immediate danger to life, but people who are in crisis, who have fallen through the net. For instance, paramedics might help an older person with dementia who can’t manage anymore.”

This shift in responsibilities mean paramedics must work closely with other organisations like Social Services, for instance when a patient has fallen at home.

Austin says: “The scope of what we deal with has changed. We have an older population and people’s behaviour over when they call an ambulance has changed. We support people in the community who are vulnerable, and we get to know the services that are available to them. It’s good to know simple, practical things, like what equipment exists.

“Paramedics are working unsociable hours, often at times where they are unable to just pick up a phone and talk to someone’s GP. It’s about knowing the choices available to them and understanding and having confidence in drug charts; knowing who to call and when to call.”

There are about 300 students studying Paramedics Science at Greenwich University at two sites, Medway and Avery Hill. They vary in age and backgrounds, both culturally and academically, and bring a range of different experiences to university life.

Austin says: “During the interview process we ask what has motivated them to study Paramedics Science and many of them have had life experiences and often it’s been at home.

“Demand is very high for paramedics, and we don’t even produce enough for London and Secamb (South East Coast Ambulance Service). There is also a high turnover, with most working in a traditional paramedic role for about five years. Then they can specialise and move into different clinical or managerial roles.

“Working as a paramedic can be hard, with an unpredictable workload and you are expected to make decisions that have a significant impact on people, but there is a lot of support and opportunities to progress and specialise. There are not many medical professions where you are expected to undertake autonomous decisions, so early in your career. It can be quite stressful, and you can also be exposed to some very negative events from a mental health perspective. Demand is high for paramedics but staffing levels are low.

“But there is no greater feeling than helping someone and there being a successful outcome – not necessarily saving a life but providing care that makes someone comfortable or happy, or even achieving the death they would wish to have. It’s not all about saving lives; it’s about helping people and contributing to the community.”