What it takes to become a GWAAC Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care - Great Western Air Ambulance Charity
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What it takes to become a GWAAC Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care

Becky – PR and Digital Communications Coordinator for GWAAC

It’s my job to communicate the importance of our Critical Care Team and the expert level of care they provide to our communities. I’m lucky to chat to the crew and meet some of our former patients – to see first-hand the difference they make to people’s lives. However, it was not until I attended the selection day to recruit new Specialist Paramedics in Critical Care (SPCCs) that I fully understood the incredible set of skills they have. To be able to walk into any situation and make quick decisions that can have such a huge, lasting impact on someone’s life requires a special type of person.

This is why GWAAC have a rigorous selection day and interview process, to ensure that all of our new SPCCs have the right experience, qualities, clinical knowledge, ability to work under immense pressure and ability to make quick decisions. Luckily for me and a few of our wonderful volunteers, we were able to go along to the latest selection day in March to see what it takes to become a Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care.


When I arrived at GWAAC’s base I was greeted with a gigantic truck in the car park – the mobile treatment centre. As well as this new addition, the entire air base had been transformed specially for the recruitment day.

Naturally I was most intrigued by the huge truck in the car park. Once given permission, I was allowed to enter and watch some of the candidates during one of their assessments – a scenario the crew had put together to test their communication and clinical skills. Before entering, the candidates were given a very brief synopsis of the situation they were about to walk into. However, other than that they had no idea or time to prepare for the task they had been set.

I’ve been sworn to secrecy and cannot go into detail about the tasks on the day, but I can say that it opened my eyes up to what it must be like to work for the GWAAC team and all other emergency service teams. When they are called to the scene of an incident, they might have limited information and facts and are unsure of what they are about to walk into. However, using their skills, they train and practise to make sure they are prepared and ready to spring into action. Which is why the candidates were tested on how they coped with walking into the unknown and managing the situations placed before them.

Throughout the day, there were numerous assessments that tested the candidate’s medical knowledge and capabilities. However, to ensure that they would work well and fit in with the team the crew tested their character. These were probably my hardest but favourite tasks to watch. One in particular was set to bring out their true colours and give an indication of what type of person they were… all I will say is I’m glad it wasn’t me that had been set that task!

Because of the advanced level of care that our crew give, they only attend the most critical and seriously ill patients. It’s hard and can often be very upsetting. Having a team around you that you trust and can talk to and laugh with, is a huge part in coping with this job. During these assessments, we watched how each individual handled the difficult task and their attitude towards it, to get a sense of who they were and whether they would fit in with the team.

Another vital skill that GWAAC crew members need is team work. There were several tasks that really focused on bringing out the candidate’s teamwork skills. In real life, GWAAC’s Critical Care Team work with many emergency service teams across our region. The team specialize in Pre Hospital Emergency Medicine and bring the skills and expertise of an Emergency Department to the patient. This means they are able to bring an extra level of care and provide lifesaving interventions at the scene of an incident, such as emergency blood transfusions, roadside amputations or treating cardiac arrests. Because of this, other emergency service teams sometimes request the GWAAC team for further help on scene. Teamwork is vital at the scene of an incident, so it is important that anyone joining GWAAC is able to walk into any situation, communicate well and work seamlessly with others – as someone’s life depends on it.

Another necessity for our Critical Care Team is fitness. To bring the Emergency Department to the scene of an incident involves carrying large, heavy bags and equipment to where the patient is. Often when they go by helicopter the pilot will land as close as they can to the patient – although it can still mean they have to travel a bit by foot from the helicopter to the scene. Sometimes it involves climbing over fences, up steep hills and navigating over rivers – as seen in the picture to the right of Critical Care Doctor Chris! When someone is critically-ill, every second counts, so a level of fitness is required to be able to access the patient as quickly as possible.

To test their levels of fitness, the candidates were put through their paces through several fitness tests. They were pushed to their limits and I felt exhausted and in pain watching them.


I’ve only highlighted a few of the assessments that took place on the day, but the candidates were put through many more. At the end they all seemed exhausted. However, despite being in competition with each other they were all supporting and rooting for one another, having bonded over the experience. Each had different backgrounds, clinical experience and had come from different parts of the UK, but they each shared one common factor – wanting to work for GWAAC’s Critical Care Team. A team that strives to make a difference to people’s lives every day.

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