The exact qualifications for ambulance drivers depend on a number of factors, ranging from the kind of career you have in mind to the requirements of the ambulance service trust you will be working under.
Driving an ambulance isn’t a career in itself, but rather one of various duties expected of the members of an ambulance service team. These range from full-fledged paramedics to ambulance technicians, ambulance care assistant and/or patient transport roles. The main difference is the context wherein patient transport takes place.
Emergency vs non-emergency services
Generally speaking, the only people qualified to drive emergency ambulances are paramedics and emergency care assistants (ECAs). Paramedics must undergo specialised university and/or job training, while ECAs typically require work experience in a relevant field.
In a non-emergency context, ambulance driving is usually done by Patient Transport Service (PTS) drivers, ambulance technicians and ambulance care assistants; they cater to passengers who need assistance getting to and from appointments, care centres, their homes, and the like.
Non-emergency patient transport
Patient transport services (PTS) involve taking patients to and from their appointments at care centres. This goes beyond the simple act of driving; regular tasks are likely to include:
- Helping patients out of their homes and into the vehicle
- Ensuring patients’ timely arrival to their destination
- Providing a safe and reassuring environment for patients
- Transporting patients back from their appointment to their homes or other destination
This work often involves caring for elderly people, people with physical or mental disabilities and people persons with serious medical conditions. As such, it is not uncommon for PTS drivers to pair up with qualified ambulance personnel, such as care assistants or technicians, who can provide resuscitation if needed.
Requirements for patient transport services drivers
Regardless of specific job role, legally driving an ambulance requires a full, manual driving licence. As well as being a skilled and careful driver, most ambulance trusts will likely require people with experience driving vans or other larger vehicles. They may also prefer someone who knows the local area well. For those who took their driving tests after 1996, it may be necessary to gain an additional driving qualification that covers driving larger vehicles and transporting passengers.
PTS drivers and assistants must be physically fit and strong as they may need to lift patients, including those seated in a wheelchair. Furthermore, many employers will prefer work experience related to ambulance driving, including a background in caring for people with mental or physical disabilities, or with older people. Such experience can also be gained through voluntary work.
Medical services professions typically involve a strong human component. Good communication skills and compassion are essential traits, but there are other highly desirable qualities:
- Careful driving
- Interest in others
- Empathy for people's concerns and anxieties
- A reassuring presence
- The ability to deal with challenging (uncooperative or aggressive) behaviour