paramedic history of emergency medical services in south africa

By: Paramedic South Africa  11-11-2011

Entry into the profession :

 Historically, entry into the paramedic profession was achieved by working through various roles within a specific registered ambulance service.  Prospective paramedics often began by working in the non-emergency Patient Transport Service, before moving into accident and emergency work by qualifying as an ambulance technician. Then, following a period of experience in the technician role, candidates would sit entry exams and then complete a training course to become a qualified paramedic.

With the increasing number of University courses leading to paramedic qualification, this is no longer the case. Those who wish to can join a University Degree straight from school that leads to registration with the Health Professions Council (HPCSA) as a paramedic. For those who do not have the required entry qualifications for higher education, there are still some opportunities to join their local ambulance service in another role, e.g. call taker, ambulance care assistant or apprentice.

A good point to start will be with your first aid levels to ensure that you gain enough knowledge to make an informed decision as to go full time in the emergency services as a paramedic. Often students apply at universities just to find out later the year that this career was not what they had in mind.

Most services offer further development for such staff, including support to study access to higher education courses so that suitable candidates can then gain a place on a suitable university course.

If you are interested in applying for a role within the national ambulance services you should contact your local Ambulance Service to find out what positions are available, as these alter between services.

Entry requirements:

Most University courses require, as a minimum, that applicants hold a grade 12 certificate or above, including Maths and English,

For mature students, most institutions will also accept a suitable access to higher education course.

Most Universities publish their entry criteria on their websites.

Driving Emergency Vehicles

Whilst registration with the Health Profession Council as a paramedic does not rely on the ability to drive an emergency vehicle, most Ambulance services (who are by far the largest employer of paramedics), will require you to be able to drive a frontline ambulance under emergency conditions. This will usually require having category C1 on your driving licence (Vehicles weighing between 3,500 kg and 7,500 kg).  In order to drive under emergency conditions staff are also required to pass an emergency driving course, commonly of three to four weeks duration.

People with certain medical conditions are barred from driving emergency vehicles, including insulin dependent diabetics and some categories of epilepsy. This is something to bear in mind if you are thinking of becoming a paramedic and suffer from one of these conditions.

Direct entry courses

Entry onto many of the university courses is through the University of Witwatersrand, University of Durban, and University of the Orange Free State. If you study on one of these courses you will be a fulltime student, you will be eligible for means tested grants, student loans and also have to pay tuition fees. 

Supported places

Some Universities work closely with partner ambulances services to provide paramedic development for existing non-paramedic clinical staff such as technicians and emergency care assistants.  A small number of ambulance services also provide programmes for new starters.  Entry onto these courses is via the partner ambulance services.  Most commonly students of supported places are existing employees of the partner ambulance services, and will often have fees paid and other support such as salary and expenses.  The graduate paramedic would normally be expected to work for their employing on qualification as a paramedic and for a fixed time afterwards. 

Post registration opportunities

As outlined in "Paramedic Curriculum Guidance and Competence Framework" (CoP, 2008), the College of Paramedics supports an increase in the threshold entry level for paramedics to a minimum of Diploma of Higher Education.  However some university-based paramedic courses are set higher than this at B.Sc (Hons) level and paramedics are increasingly found studying for post-graduate qualifications after their initial registration. 

Until recent years, the prospects for paramedics wishing to develop were limited to in-house ambulance training or management roles.  In recent years however, many paramedics have developed their clinical practice into specialist and advanced roles in areas such as primary and critical care.  Increasingly paramedics are to be found working for institutions other than ambulance services, such as Out of Hours GP providers, Minor Injuries Units, Walk-In Centres, and various private health providers.  In keeping with other health care professionals, paramedics are required to have attained higher education qualifications to undertake such roles.

Paramedics also develop in other ways.  Many move into managerial, educational or research roles and the diversity of these pathways has also increased in recent years with the growth of university provision and specialist managerial roles.

An Early Start

If you are still at school or have to make a career choice and would like to start your career in the emergency medical field as an ambulance officer but you are not sure that this is the career for you; it is advisable to start off with your basic First Aid Courses. These are the courses, Emergency Medical First Aid – Level 1, Emergency Medical First Aid – Level 2 and Emergency Medical First Aid – Level 3. This should give you a good understanding on what you will do on a full time basis. Another course you might want to look into is the first Responder.

School subjects that will make your studying easier are:

  1. Biology
  2. Mathematics
  3. Science

To find out more about our courses go to:


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