New paramedic degree programme launched at Ulster University's Magee campus in Derry
FORTY students are preparing to embark on Northern Ireland's first ever university degree programme for paramedics.
Until now, those wishing to become qualified had to travel to the Republic or Britain to complete a BSc Hons programme in Paramedic Science
The three-year course will be at Ulster University's Magee campus in Derry, where a specially designed simulated ambulance - the only one of its kind in the north - has already been built.
With severe shortages in the paramedic workforce, it is hoped the programme's graduates will provide "an uninterrupted supply" for those who wish to enter the frontline profession.
The first groups of students come from a wide range of backgrounds - from school leavers to people in their 40s.
Some have worked in the health service in other roles, including an ambulance care assistant and emergency medical dispatcher.
However, others have opted for a career change, with former accountants and insurance worker earning a place.
The new students will have access to specially designed training spaces recreated on campus, including a hospital ward, simulated bedrooms and living room.
Health Minister Robin Swann welcomed the new Paramedic BSc programme at Ulster University.
"This programme will ensure Northern Ireland continues to have a sustainable supply of world class paramedics. These paramedics will be an essential part of the future Health and Social care workforce and I wish them all every success in their careers," he said.
Professor Owen Barr, course director of the paramedic science programme, said it marked the "culmination of years of work".
"It is only the first chapter for the 40 students who will take up their places on cohort one today. I’m excited to watch these students go on to become the paramedics of the future, playing an important part in the future development of healthcare provision across the region."
The rollout comes a month a new medical school at the Magee campus has opened for 70 students.
The post-graduate students will begin training as doctors, taking a four-year medical qualification
Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice Chancellor of Ulster University said new degree programme represented "another key milestone on our journey to transforming the Magee campus into a hub for Health and Innovation."
"Our paramedic, nursing, medical - and from next year, health sciences - students will learn together and hopefully go on to work side by side in hospitals and other care settings both here in the North West and throughout Northern Ireland," he said.
"Now that we can educate local talent to this level here in the region, we anticipate that they will choose to stay and work in Northern Ireland thereby meeting the growing workforce demands for more paramedics in Northern Ireland and increasing our workforce at a critical time."