A new generation of lifesavers is ready to get to work, as the University of Sunderland’s first cohort of paramedics graduate.

The team is the first in a long line of freshly University-trained North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) paramedics ready to help address the national shortage.

The University and NEAS have worked in partnership to develop the bespoke specialist training programme which is now helping train the new recruits.

The first 19 started their course on 8 September 2016 and have now successfully completed two years of study.

The life-savers were the first to have access to the University’s Sciences Complex Phase II and the Living Lab – with its interactive learning facilities.

The students are employed by NEAS, allowing them to balance studying with working their operational shifts. And the graduating cohort say they could not have asked for a better two years to prepare them for their new roles.

Denise Bridge, from Newcastle, has spent 10 years with the NEAS, first as an emergency care assistant, then as a technician, and says she’s always had the confidence that a paramedic clinical lead was there to act as her “blanket of support”.

Now, after two years of hard work, she’s part of the first cohort to qualify with a University of Sunderland’s Paramedic Practice HE Diploma, and she will now be the one acting as the “blanket” for others when she prepares to take the lead on board the ambulance.

She said: “The course has been an incredible personal challenge, balancing a full-time job with my studies, and I’m relieved I’ve got through it. The academic side of the course didn’t come easy, and there was the added pressure that I would breeze through it because I already worked for the Ambulance Service, but you have to believe in yourself.

“When I passed I walked around in a daze thinking ‘I have done it’, there were so many emotions that I had passed. This is not the type of career you can do unless you love it.”

Denise says her husband, who also works at NEAS, provided great support and understanding, as well as her fellow students on the course. She was even nominated by her fellow learners to become their student representative on any areas of concern that needed raising during the course.

Steve Merrifield, from South Shields, is delighted to have completed his two years of high-level study.

He said: “It has been intense but definitely worth it. Working long shifts then coping with the study takes organisation but we’ve all had incredible support from the University and the North East Ambulance Service.

“The lectures have been really easy to access and we’ve been looked after all the way.”

James Houghton, from Wallsend, in North Tyneside, said: “Everyone here is working at different stations across the North East but we all come together to the University.

“It’s been a brilliant two years, the lecturers have really helped on all levels.”

Rachel Laverty, of Prudhoe, said: “To have been the first cohort here at Sunderland has been really exciting.

“You do have to balance your day job with the assignments but the fact there is a few of you doing it together is brilliant. We have become one big family.”

NEAS worked with the University to develop the programme through the Corporate and Professional Education team who are responsible for bringing together employers with Faculty expertise to develop bespoke programmes.

Victoria Duffy is the Programme Leader and Senior Lecturer in Clinical Skills in the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing.

She said: “We are delighted to see our inaugural cohort graduate and register as paramedics.

“As a group they have worked extremely hard and achieved huge successes, both personal and professional and as a programme team it has been a pleasure and a privilege to watch them grow and develop into autonomous practitioners.

“They are a credit to the Ambulance Service and have set a fantastic precedent for Paramedicine at the University of Sunderland. I am proud to lead this programme and immensely proud of our graduating cohort.”

Caroline Thurlbeck, Director of Strategy, Workforce and Transformation at NEAS, said: “Training to become a paramedic is intense and challenging but it is also one of the most rewarding opportunities available. Our employees are able to make a real difference, day in day out, to our patients across the North East.

“On behalf of the NEAS, I would like to congratulate our first cohort and look forward to watching their careers continue to flourish within our service.”

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