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What’s The Difference Between A Doctor And A Paramedic?

What’s The Difference Between A Doctor And A Paramedic?

Updated on: December 10, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Doctors and paramedics are both healthcare professionals that you’d be relieved to see rock up if you urgently needed medical attention.

But, what’s the actual difference between a doctor and a paramedic?

A paramedic specialises in the initial emergency medical treatment of patients, from arriving at the scene to conveying them to hospital. Doctors on the other hand generally work within a hospital (or GP practice) and take over the care of the patient once they arrive.

In hospital, doctors have more specialised tests and equipment at their disposal, so can continue providing emergency care to a patient from where the paramedics left off.

Now, this is a bit of generalisation, as you do get emergency care doctors working off of air ambulances and paramedics who work in GP practices, but it holds up as a general rule.

In this article, I’m going to drill down into just what sets these two healthcare professionals apart, as well as dedicating a final section to helping you decide which to study if you’re stuck on the fence.

How Do Doctors And Paramedics Differ?

Before we confuse things by looking at how each role can spill into another’s domain, let’s first set out the key differences between doctors and paramedics.

Mainly work either in hospitals or in GP practicesWork on ambulances bringing people to hospital
In charge of patient care once they arrive at hospitalIn charge of patient care before the patient gets to hospital
Can specialise in a wide range of medical fields, some of which have very few emergenciesSpecialists in the emergency pre-hospital treatment of patients
Can prescribe medicationCan’t prescribe without additional qualifications
Has to complete 4-6 years at medical school to become a doctorHas to complete a 3 year paramedic science course at university

A paramedic (or paramedic technician) are who ride around in ambulances responding to emergency medical situations.

They’re trained to deal with any medical emergency a member of the public might dial 999 for.

Be that heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks or overdoses.

A paramedic’s job is to provide the best treatment they can before driving the patient to hospital.

As the immediate care experts, you’d actually generally want a paramedic over a doctor to come to you first if you were involved in a car accident.

Differences Between A Doctor And A Paramedic Pixel Infographic

Doctors are the main clinical decision makers in hospitals, including the emergency department.

When a patient is brought to hospital by an ambulance, it’s the emergency care doctors who then take over treatment.

Hospitals have far more equipment, medications and people than on the back of an ambulance so the doctors can make use of this to deliver higher quality care to the patient.

The Crossover Between Doctors And Paramedics

As a doctor, you can choose to specialise in lots of different fields of medicine.

I personally want to to specialise as a GP, but you can decide to specialise as a surgeon, respiratory physician or dermatologist (to name a few).

One option is to become an emergency medicine specialist.

These are the doctors who work in Accident & Emergency departments.

It can be one of the most exciting specialties because you’re the one in charge when extremely ill people are rushed into the hospital- after a stabbing, gunshot wound or car crash.

An air ambulance being restocked

Sometimes, these emergency medicine doctors choose to do extra shifts working outside the hospital, on an air ambulance for example.

An air ambulance is very similar to a normal ambulance, except that it’s in a helicopter, not a truck.

They’re called to the absolutely sickest people who will need to get to hospital the very quickest.

An emergency medicine doctor can choose to work shifts as part of the air ambulance crew- so can take their expert medical knowledge right to the scene of the accident.

Here, they’re essentially doing the job of a paramedic: providing medical care to a patient before they get to hospital.

But, they have the advantage of being a doctor and so are able to use some more advanced drugs and procedures that a paramedic may not be trained on.

Can A Paramedic Become A Doctor?

Although they can operate in very similar spaces and perform lots of the same functions when caring for patients, doctors and paramedics are two distinct fields.

If a paramedic wanted to become a doctor, they’d have to go to medical school in exactly the same fashion as anyone other person who wanted to become a doctor.

They’d be able to breeze through the first few years of the course due to the overlap in curriculum from their paramedic studies, but there’s no special feeder stream for paramedics to become doctors.

What’s potentially more common is for a paramedic to become an advanced care practitioner.

This is a role that’s very similar to that of a junior doctor, but is open to experienced nurses, paramedics or pharmacists.

After years of gaining experience, if desired, a paramedic can undertake additional postgraduate qualifications to become an advanced care practitioner.

This usually involves a Master’s level degree as well as doing a prescribing course- so that they’re then able to prescribe medication.

I’ve actually worked alongside two paramedic advanced practitioners at a GP practice I used to be based at.

They both had a huge wealth of experience from years of working on ambulances, that they were then able to translate into seeing patients in the GP practice.

Instead of having to go all the way back to medical school and spend years and years in training, they were able to operate roughly at the level of a junior doctor using their formidable backgrounds in paramedicine.

Doctor Vs Paramedic Salary

In the UK, doctors are paid more than paramedics.

NHS doctors’ salaries generally range from £29,000 to about £120,000 for a very experienced consultant.

Paramedics’ salaries start at £26,000 and go to about £75,000 with sufficient seniority.

Paramedics in the NHS are paid in accordance with the NHS band system: essentially the higher the band, the more money you get!

A newly qualified paramedic would start at band 5, which ranges from £25,655 to £31,534, and then move up to band 6 (£32,306 and £39,027) after two years of work.

Senior paramedics or team leaders can at some point expect to move up to band 7, which brings with it a pay rise to a bracket of £32,306 to £45,839.

Two paramedic students teaching the public CPR

After many years of experience and undertaking additional qualifications, a paramedic can become a paramedic consultant, with a salary of £65,664 to £75,874 in band 8.

Doctors on the other hand have a slightly different system from the NHS banding of pay.

It’s still pretty similar, with pay increasing in small jumps as a doctor moves from one level of training to the next, but the increases do start to become a bit more generous towards the end of their training.

After 10 years of work, a doctor could expect to be earning about £88,000, which then continues to progress up to a maximum base salary of £119,000 for an extremely experienced consultant.

Doctor Vs Paramedic Training

To become a doctor, you need to go to medical school.

To become a paramedic, you either need to study paramedic science at university or complete a paramedic apprenticeship scheme.

These schemes vary from ambulance trust to ambulance trust, but generally involve you joining as an ambulance technician who then works towards their paramedic qualification over a couple of years.

There are actually plans to introduce medicine degree apprenticeships, but they’re not widespread yet.

Doctor TrainingParamedic Training
Course typeDegree programDegree program or apprenticeship scheme
Course length4-6 years3-4 years if studying paramedic science
Typical offerAAABBB

As part of a medicine degree, you generally learn a lot more of the underlying theory as to why you need to do something for certain conditions.

Taking allergic reactions as an example, medical school will teach you all the different cytokines and receptors that are in play when someone is having a serious allergic reaction.

Paramedic science may just teach you the practicalities of how and why you need to give the patient their EpiPen.

It’s not for everyone, as it means for a lot of the initial part of medical school you’re hardly interacting with patients, but I personally enjoyed learning the theory behind things before applying it to clinical practice.

Should You Study Medicine Or Paramedic Science?

If you’re trying to decide whether to become a doctor or a paramedic, this final section is for you.

Both are brilliant options that can lead to incredibly exciting and varied careers, but you may find one suits your professional aspirations far better.

Study medicine if…Study paramedic science if…
You’re willing to dedicate the years of training required to become a fully-qualified doctorYou’d prefer a shorter training pipeline to get hands-on quicker
You’re happy to work in a hospital or GP practiceYou’d prefer to work on the road, getting to travel to the patient in your ambulance
You want to potentially be in charge of patient care until they’re discharged from hospitalYou’re happy with shorter patient interactions that end when you get to hospital
You want to specialise in a particular area of medicine, such as by becoming a surgeonYou want to be a generalist in immediate emergency medical care
You have the grades and CV necessary to secure at place at highly competitive medical schoolsYou don’t have such a strong academic background but still want to enter the world of healthcare

I chose to study medicine because I enjoyed studying science at school, liked the idea of being someone patients could come to for help and knew I could mould a career in medicine to suit my interests.

I personally didn’t study paramedic science because I wanted those career progression opportunities that could take me from junior doctor to consultant specialist in any field I chose.

Prehospital medicine definitely interests me, and I’m definitely slightly envious of when paramedics are getting stuck in with a serious medical incident, but I hope I’ll be able to explore some of that a bit later on in my medical career.

Final Thoughts

Doctors couldn’t do their jobs without paramedics.

Paramedics not only physically transport patients to hospital, but also use their medical knowledge to sort out a huge number of patients that don’t need to come to hospital.

If everyone who called 999 immediately got brought to hospital, emergency departments would fill up almost instantly and hospitals would be quickly overwhelmed.

Equally, paramedics need doctors to be able to unload their ambulances into safe hands to be able to drive back out to pick up the next patient.

I think choosing between them as career options simply comes down to your personality, although with two great choices I highly doubt you can go far wrong!

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.