Aussie paramedics kick-start careers overseas

Over the past decade, an increasing number of Australian-trained paramedics have headed overseas for a career head-start.
Wednesday 6 September 2023

The London Ambulance Service (LAS), one of the busiest ambulance services in the world, is a particular magnet, with about 20 percent of its 2500-strong workforce now comprised of paramedics from Australia and New Zealand.

The reason? Degree-qualified paramedics are in short supply in London where the LAS takes up to 5 million emergency and non-emergency calls a year. Paramedics can upskill to a broad range of roles, including arriving in a helicopter to help in roadside emergencies, or doing search and rescue work with the fire brigade.

Victoria University (VU) paramedic students are among the first to be "welcomed with open arms," said VU Paramedic Sciences lecturer Adam Pilmore.

"When they work in London they see everything they are going to see in their careers," he said.

"Two years in London is equivalent to four years in Australia."

VU graduate and former Mornington Peninsula resident William Harrison found himself in the middle of the 2016 bombings in Paris less than a year into his role with the LAS while on a weekend holiday.

He and his then-girlfriend, now wife, Laura - also a paramedic - both flew into action to help triage victims and help in a critical incident. The pair later received a Governor General's Medal in recognition of their courage.

"We had the knowledge to do something, it's pretty ingrained," he said.

The pair's plan for a year or two in London to get international experience and see Europe on the side stretched into seven years due to the range of roles in which they were involved before they returned to Australia in 2022.

Laura was the first Australian paramedic to work with London's Helicopter Emergency Service, while one of William's final roles was with the Hazardous Area Response Team, who are trained to respond during natural disasters, hazmat events or security incidents.

William is working as a paramedic in the quiet South Australia town of Millicent near Mount Gambier, while Laura is studying a Master of Remote and Extreme Medicine through the University of Tasmania - they are hoping for opportunities to return back to Victoria for work.

While the couple recommend London as an immensely rewarding experience for other newly qualified Australian paramedics, they caution there are also lower salaries and higher costs-of-living over there.

In recent years, VU has seen about 30 to 50 graduates heading overseas a year, although those numbers have slowed in recent years due to the COVID pandemic and with more job opportunities for paramedics in Australia.

While many VU-educated paramedics remain overseas, especially in London, VU also hosts students from around the globe who take their professional paramedic qualifications back to their home countries.

Among its international graduates are Apelu Saugaiga Kaio, who became Samoa's first qualified paramedic, and Ahmed Saleh Alhajeri, now CEO of the United Arab Emirate's National Ambulance Company, that serves more than 70 million people.