11 Oct Taking the plunge into the big primary care pond
Ann Ball, a paramedic working in general practice was inspired by our recent view “A paramedic’s move to general practice” and decided to share her experience.
The end of my first year working in general practice is now fast approaching. If you had told me that I would be here when I first started my career as a humble ambulance care assistant in 1993, I would have never believed you. At the time it just wasn’t a route or career choice open to paramedics. Things started to develop throughout my working life and the option has opened up at the right time for me, when fast-track was introduced to paramedics in 1996. First the education routes started improving for paramedics and now there is a visible shift in opportunities in general practice as GP surgeries are looking to meet their patients’ needs through mixed-skills teams of varied health professionals. The next change that I am looking forward to would be granting us the license to prescribe independently (which have taken a little while longer than we were promised in 2005). This will really help my role in primary care and will also develop lots of paramedic’s careers further and see us working in very different places rather than just at the back of an ambulance.
A learning curve for all
What an almost year it’s been, I didn’t envisage quite what a change it will be though. At times it made me think: “did I ever learn anything from my previous roles or at university?” The transitional learning curve has been great – steep, fun and rewarding. It took nearly six months of seeing things regularly and working with different on-call GPs to get a handle on how primary care works (and some days I still learn new things) and what works well most of the time.
The team also had to get used to me and the new role within the practice, allowing me to be the autonomous practitioner was a challenge. Similarly as in Andy’s experience, I initially focused on home visits and minor illness, but the role is growing very organically too, as trust in my ability and further enhancement to skills are being developed.
None of my colleagues had worked with paramedics in the past, and they weren’t fully aware of my neither education nor skillset. Patients were also keen to understand my role in the practice and the question “Why am I not seeing a doctor?” came out frequently.
What my day involves
A friend and colleague told me recently: “I don’t think I could make the same change, sitting in an office all day, adding things to the computer.”
That’s as bad as when I used to hear that all I do as a paramedic is stick plasters on. In both cases it is oh so different. So yes I get to sit in a consultation room, but I also get to see a different person every 15 mins, with varying symptoms. I might go through periods of seeing lots of people with ear infections, sore throats or chesty coughs, but as in the ambulance service anything could be a symptom of a more complex issue.
I get to review my own patients, see them again, and see how their treatment is working. I also go on home visits so I do get out into the wide world.
I’ve met lots of lovely patients who now actually ask to see me when they know it’s something I can deal with. They are getting used to the new role within the practice and most of them see it as a benefit to them.
What unexpected things did I bring to primary care?
Along with my paramedic education and practical skills, there were also some real-life experiences, I perhaps wasn’t that aware I would be able to use. As paramedics we have a can-do attitude, so quite often I just get on with things, sort out problems. I also brought some recent empathy and experience with family bereavement and dealing with a cancer diagnosis of both my elderly parents, as well as more recently a move to a nursing home for my mum. All things that have helped, I hope, the families and patients dealing with similar personal issues.
Should you consider a change?
If you, like me, really enjoyed the medical side of the paramedic role, then perhaps you should consider a move into general practice. Yes, I get to leave mostly on time, but that old sod’s law happens just like on the ambulances…when you want to finish on time you invariably don’t.
I really do enjoy my new role and encourage you to dip your toe in the waters of a more forward thinking practice as well. Check out your local GP surgeries, send in your CV and test the waters, you never know who might be looking for that brave and perhaps somewhat mad paramedic ready to take the plunge into the big primary care pond.
Ann Ball, 49 and a half, graduated as an Emergency Care Practitioner (ECP) from Derby University in 2005, has a PGDIP an Advanced Professional practice (clinical education and NHS management based) (2015) from Sheffield Hallam University and is just about to embark on a Clinical Primary Care based masters at De Montfort University. She worked for the East Midlands Ambulance Service for 20+ years, during this time she worked on ambulances and solo rapid response vehicles, was a clinical educator and mentor prior to moving Sheffield Hallam University as a Senior Lecturer, latterly as the Course leader. A year ago Ann left the University to take a newly created post in general practice as a Specialist Practitioner, where she continues to work.
She remains a member of the College of Paramedics, and occasionally has medical, pharmacy and other students observe her role.