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Ulster University will today mark an historic first for Northern Ireland: welcoming 40 students to the region’s first ever BSc Hons Paramedic Sciences programme.

With funding support from the Department of Health, the new three-year course will be based within Ulster University’s multi- award-winning School of Nursing on the Magee campus.

This course is being offered by the University to support the development of the paramedic profession in Northern Ireland and wider afield. Until now, students in Northern Ireland wishing to become paramedics had to travel to the south of Ireland or across the Irish Sea to complete a BSc Hons programme in Paramedic Science.

The first cohort to be able to study this allied healthcare profession course here ranges in age from school leavers to people in their 40s. They come from a wide range of backgrounds from those embarking on a change of career from accountancy to insurance; to those working in similar fields: ambulance care assistant, lifeguard, emergency medical dispatcher and humanitarian.

Introducing some of the students

Conor, 21, from Belfast: “I was eager to get on this course after working as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher during the past two years. I started a year after finishing my A-levels (when I was 19) and worked throughout the pandemic. The clear difference in call volume between pre-pandemic and during the pandemic was immense. Working with paramedics and staff of all ages inspired me to take the next step and apply for this paramedic science course. Helping people over the phone was extremely rewarding but I’m ready to have a more face-to-face and hands on role in the care of the patients I deal with rather than giving instructions such as CPR and delivering a baby over the phone!”

Olivia, 32 from Kilmore, Co Armagh added: “My background is in finance. I studied accounting, graduated in 2010 and became a Chartered Accountant in 2013. I was inspired to pursue a career switch during the Covid pandemic to explore a healthcare-related career in order to make a more meaningful contribution to my community and have a more dynamic working environment. I hope that through sharing my unusual journey to this Paramedic Science course, it will encourage future applicants from non-healthcare backgrounds.”

Megan, 22, from Newcastle, Co Down said: "I have always been interested in becoming a paramedic but when I left school there wasn’t an opportunity to study in Northern Ireland so I opted to do a geography degree instead. I maintained my interest in first responder care, working with the Mourne Mountain Rescue team when writing my dissertation. I have worked for the RNLI as a lifeguard for several years and also volunteer for the Coastguard which have meant I have attended lots of callouts with the paramedics attending. This really consolidated the fact that I would love to be a paramedic and here I am on day one!"

State of the art learning environment

A specially designed simulated ambulance - the only one of its kind in the region - has been custom built on the Magee campus so that students have access to the best simulated learning experience in order to hone their skills and confidence to excel in their future role.

Through frequent experience and learning inside this exact replica of an ambulance, coupled with 60 weeks practice-based learning with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and a range of other hospital and community-based experience in the other Health and Social Care Trusts and independent sector partners, they will learn a wide range of skills - meaning that in emergency situations they will be able to provide the very best care to people in most need of it.

The students will also have access to a wealth of specially designed training spaces from a hospital ward, simulated bedrooms and living room recreated on campus, to clinical skills rooms and a wide range of the latest equipment, to set them up for success in their chosen field.

Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“I welcome the new Paramedic BSC programme at Ulster University. This programme will ensure Northern Ireland continues to have a sustainable supply of world class paramedics. These paramedics will be an essential part of the future Health and Social care workforce and I wish them all every success in their careers.”

Professor Owen Barr, Course Director of the Paramedic Science programme, Ulster University, commented:

“Today is a great day - it marks the culmination of years of work to offer the first BSc Hons Paramedic Science degree programme in Northern Ireland, but it is only the first chapter for the 40 students who will take up their places on cohort one today. I’m excited to watch these students go on to become the paramedics of the future, playing an important part in the future development of healthcare provision across the region.”

Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice Chancellor of the University commented:

“Following the opening of the School of Medicine just four weeks ago, this is another key milestone on our journey to transforming the Magee campus into a hub for Health and Innovation. Our paramedic, nursing, medical - and from next year, health sciences - students will learn together and hopefully go on to work side by side in hospitals and other care settings both here in the North West and throughout Northern Ireland. Now that we can educate local talent to this level here in the region, we anticipate that they will choose to stay and work in Northern Ireland thereby meeting the growing workforce demands for more paramedics in Northern Ireland and increasing our workforce at a critical time.”

Michael Bloomfield, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust (NIAS):

“I am delighted that the first BSc in Paramedic Science in Northern Ireland has started today at Ulster University. This will ensure the continued supply of Paramedics for our local communities into the future and will enable the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to take forward the planned developments and transformation of our service to meet the future needs of our population.

“I met the students and am impressed by their clear commitment and passion for the career they have chosen. The future of Paramedicine in Northern Ireland is bright! I wish them well for their studies and look forward to seeing them over the next three years as they undertake their practice placements with NIAS.

“I would like to congratulate and thank our colleagues at Ulster University for the excellent work they have done in developing this programme and look forward to a continued close partnership with them for many years to come.”

Jenny Keane, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer in Department of Health:

“‘I welcome the addition of the BSc Hons Paramedic Science at Ulster University and I would like to extend a warm welcome to the 40 students on the programme.

“It has been developed by the department in conjunction with Ulster University and I look forward to continued collaboration with Ulster. This programme will help ensure a sustainable and uninterrupted supply of paramedics in Northern Ireland for future years”

Professor Bob Fellows, Head of Education for College of Paramedics and visiting Professor in the School of Nursing:

“Any prospective student considering their options in choosing an exceptional new paramedic programme should seriously consider Ulster at the top of their wish list. The first paramedic programme in the UK to be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council with no conditions. Crafted by experts to prepare the paramedics of the future who aspire to achieve in the widest aspects of paramedicine. Exceptional depth and breadth of practice based learning will give wonderful learning opportunities and create a foundation for life-long learning and develop a desire for specialist and advanced practice fields.”