Paramedic turned educationalist 


Becoming a lecturer: See one, do one, teach one.
Paul Thomson-Elliott MCPara shares his experience of leaving the NHS and becoming a lecturer at the University of Sunderland.

Leaving the NHS having worked as a paramedic for some time, was a difficult decision leading me to question; Was there life outside of the NHS for me? Well, YES there was. My journey from paramedic to lecturer.

“Congratulations, we were impressed with your interview and the passion you demonstrate for education. We would like to offer you the post of ‘senior lecturer’ on the paramedic practice program”

This one phone call changed my career trajectory and how I would spend the next four years of my life, if not, the rest of my working career. 

Let’s take a step back; I completed a foundation degree in paramedic science in 2010, this was a program that was jointly delivered by a university and the local ambulance trust. The first year of my course was inspirational due to one tutor, who was not only an accomplished paramedic but an outstanding educationist. Setting the bar high, inspiring all students that they taught. Encouraging us to challenge what we thought it meant to be a paramedic, encouraging us to become critical thinkers and evidenced based practitioners.  This was 12 years ago so all being said, they were a true educationalist and advocate of the development of the paramedic profession. Above all, I remember the passion they possessed for the profession and subject they taught, this was infectious and provided me with a thirst to learn more. 

However, like a cruel twist of fate in a Hollywood blockbuster this tutor vacated the trust and was replaced by a what could be described as an ‘old school trainer’. They lacked theoretical knowledge, clinical ability, or any air of professionalism. This event right here, was the initial spark that ignited my interest in a career in education. I thought to myself; “I could do a better job than that.”

Fast forward a couple of years and the trust I worked for advertised for a clinical tutor in their training department. I saw my opportunity to pursue my career goal. This role was always going to be a steppingstone for me towards my career aspiration of lecturing at a university. I gained, what I thought was valuable experience (to an extent it was) however, on reflection I delivered training packages, concentrating on practical skills mainly surrounding advanced life support and trauma management rather than academic educational courses. While I developed such skills as classroom management, lesson planning and how to engage an audience that may not be that enthusiastic to be taught, it provided me with a false sense of ability regarding my educational prowess.

One year on, an opportunity presented itself and a position became available at a university teaching on an undergraduate paramedic program. I thought to myself, this was my time, this was my opportunity to achieve a career goal I have had since qualifying as a paramedic back in 2010. Having worked within the NHS from the age of 19, I had no experience of an interview outside of an NHS ambulance trust. The task of preparing for an interview, for a job in a world I had little experience of, was a daunting prospect.  I was pushed to develop an understanding of higher education institutes, the framework behind paramedic education, pedagogical theories, and high-fidelity simulation. However, self-reflection and assessment of my own strengths and weaknesses to formulate a professional development plan proved useful during the interview. They could see how I would fit into the university and how they could support and develop me into the team member they needed. 

That was four years ago, and in that time I have taught hundreds of students who have gone onto graduate and find employment in their chosen career. I am often asked by students why I left the ambulance service to pursue a career in education.  This isn’t a simple question to answer. I loved my role as a paramedic, and I will always remain clinical in one role or another but from the moment of thinking ‘I could do a better job as a tutor’ I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I help more patients now than I could have ever helped as a paramedic, educating the next generation of paramedics ensures I continually help patients. Finally, within academia you are in a privileged place to effect real change in the paramedic profession whether that be through research or raising the educational standards of the profession.

Developing as a lecturer requires both personal and professional growth. A wise colleague and good friend of mine explains this as ‘adding to your toolbox’.  The greatest lessons I have learnt regarding engaging students in a topic or how to ensure a lecture is interactive have come from observing colleagues from different disciplines such as sociology and psychology. As with your level of competence in clinical practice is an evolving concept so is your competence as a lecturer. You will never know everything however, you need to have the ability to develop students to enable them to take ownership of their own education and enable them to acquire the higher level thinking they require. Graduate attributes and preparing students for professional practice are essential components of being a lecturer. If you finish a lecture with the students enthused by the topic and wanting to know more, you have done your job.

Advice from personal experience:
Develop yourself as a clinical professional but also your own educational background, an MSc with a clinical focus is useful, however a post graduate qualification in educational practices is vital. 
Have a specialist interest in something outside of teaching clinical modules as this is such a small aspect of a modern paramedic program, law and ethics, communication theory, pharmacology, leadership, and management are just some of the topics you will need to be able to deliver. 
Develop relationships with your local higher education institute, gain some experience of lecturing prior to taking your first post.
Understand the role of a lecturer in its entirety, physical delivery of content is about 20 percent of the overall workload of a lecturer; pastoral support, dissertation supervision, marking, being research active and writing for publication are just some of the other elements involved.  
Don’t expect to be paid large sums of money, “academia is its own reward” true, but be realistic, in the early stages of your academic career you may earn less than you were making in your clinical role. Don’t forget this is a different role all together and the opportunities within academic are vast.

Final thoughts: a question for you.
Think back, to a lecture that you have attended, what makes that lecture stick in your mind? What was it about the lecturer that was so special? Be the lecturer that is remembered by their students’ decades after they were taught.  

Twitter answers:
Credible (ongoing experience active in the subject). Engaging (not just telling but conversational, joint learning). Not taking themselves too seriously and able to talk about own errors and misconceptions. Not ‘do as I say!’ but ‘listen to what I have to say! And review/consider.

The mixture between credibility and humility is so important but often not quite right. Some of my favourite teachers have left me saying to myself “wow you’re impressive…But also approachable and not a totally unrealistic role model”

Passion for subject taught, engaging and interactive, has humility, genuinely cares. My paramedic instructor (for my IHCD course) was all of these. He literally sparked joy in the lessons he taught. I owe him so much.
Encourage learning as a concept rather than facts or an idea.