Newly Qualified, Newly Terrified. The Fear of Starting as an NQP.
By Adrian Whateley, Paramedic, Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
One of my first encounters with a paramedic was as at a tender young age when trousers were everything. I remember my Nan had bought me a pair of perfect gold-coloured trousers, which at the time I treasured. What I didn’t know was that one night those trousers would be the reason for my encounter with said paramedic. Without giving too much away and less said the better, zips and bits do not mix, and tuff cuts come in handy.
20-odd years later and here I am, a Newly Qualified Paramedic (NQP) wondering whose smart idea it was to become one and why on earth someone would give me the responsibility of Morphine.
It was back in 2015 when I joined the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, I started as an Emergency Care Assistant, I remember how I thought that every call was an emergency and that everybody needed to go to hospital. 4 years later in 2019 and a little less naïve, I began my journey as a student paramedic at Teesside University. I loved my time as a student, my time at university was fantastic (I can appreciate it now, no more essays!), I’ve met some amazing people and have made friendships that will last a lifetime. My mentors on placement were fantastic (you know who you are), I went to some amazing calls, and I was based where I worked. I cried and threatened to quit only a handful of times!
Moving forward, It’s now 2022, I’m newly qualified, newly terrified.
It was the 4th of July when I started as an NQP, a fitting date I thought. I spent the first nine days in a classroom sitting through the new employee induction, before I knew it I was out on the road alongside the more experienced paramedics, not that this made a difference however, as I was promptly told, and rightly so “you’re the paramedic now, it’s your responsibility”. Never before have I recoiled at such a curse word.
Three weeks later and that was it, I was out as a single paramedic alongside an Emergency Care Assistant, my first command as it was, no more safety blanket. I remember how my hand trembled as I was writing my name and number into the Morphine book, booking out my first ampoules of Morphine, the word ‘responsibility’ smashing around in my mind, wondering what manner of horror was going to come through on the screen. Was it a full moon? Who was I going to kill? Is it home time yet? A plethora of irrational thoughts. In reality, it was a ‘standard’ shift, I attended a few mental health related calls and took a few people to hospital, nothing too stressful.
A couple of weeks later and I am starting to feel more grounded in my new role. I have achieved a number of firsts such as my first self-care, my first missed cannula (as an NQP, I missed loads as a student) and administering my first dose of Morphine, which was quite an experience. I recall he was an anxious gentleman with severe crushing chest pain, he had never had Morphine before and so I started with a small dose of 2mg, the effects of which caused him to have a panic attack and become short of breath, which in turn caused me to become panicked and short of breath thinking id given this gentleman a lethal dose! Clearly I was wrong and a few minutes later we were both fine. Needless to say, I put the Morphine down.
I am now 10 weeks into my role, and it is still early days, I am feeling far more confident than I was in July. I have found that the single most effective tool against the fear and something that I have learnt over these short months is to understand and accept it. It's ok to be afraid, it’s a normal part of the process and a process which every paramedic, nay every member of the ambulance service goes through when they first start, some of us twice! It does get easier with time and the enjoyment soon outweighs the negative. It’s important to record reflections and maintain a good level of CPD, I have found that doing so has helped me tenfold with my confidence and insecurities. If however you do find that things are starting to get the better of you and you are starting to feel overwhelmed, remember that you are only human, it is ok and do not be afraid to speak to someone about it.
The College of Paramedics have recently launched the WRAP tool to support both student paramedics and early career paramedics. This online tool encourages users to reflect on specific incidents from a psychological or emotional perspective. It is laid out as a simple form for completion at any time and it can remain personal and private to the user or be shared easily with a mentor or educator if needed. Click here for more information.