How Volunteer to Career has put Matt on a path to becoming a paramedic

12th April 2024

EEAST Vt C Volunteers in a V shape

At 33, Matt Sharp, a Community First Responder (CFR) volunteer with East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST), has successfully secured a role as a qualified Emergency Care Assistant (ECA). Matt’s ambition is to become a fully qualified paramedic and credits the Helpforce Volunteer to Career programme as being a primary driver behind his success so far.

From roofing to volunteering as a CFR

Matt left his job in roofing to get into the care sector, something he became interested in learning more about after doing a first aid course at work.

“Doing the first aid course planted a seed in my head. It made me want to become a paramedic and join the ambulance service. At first, I didn’t know where to start. So, I broke away from being a roofer and got a job as a care assistant. Caring is very different to working on roofs! I did personal care which included things like cooking lunches and helping people move about. It was when I started volunteering at EEAST as a CFR that I felt like I was heading in the right direction.”

Volunteering as a CFR

Community First Responders are volunteers who attend 999 calls within their local community. They are trained to provide initial assessment and treatment for a patient before the arrival of an ambulance. Matt’s role as a CFR enabled him to volunteer from places including Laxfield and Ipswich and when on call, he would go wherever the dispatchers sent him.

“It is a great role to have within the community. Our skills are kept refreshed on a monthly basis and we attend regular training courses within groups. We are trained to resuscitate if needed, but there is a lot of wrap-around support from EEAST as we are not paramedics and aren’t trained to their level. We are the local first responders and can provide precious minutes of treatment before an ambulance arrives.”

How did Matt become involved with Volunteer to Career?

Vikki Darby is the Volunteer to Career lead at EEAST, and it was Vikki who got Matt involved with the pilot programme the trust was running with support from Helpforce, a national charity that works with health and care organisations to accelerate the growth and impact of volunteering.

“During my CFR training, I made it clear to Vikki that I wanted to join the trust. She was really supportive and told me to ‘bear with us, as there may be something coming up in the pipeline.’ She then told me about the Helpforce Volunteer to Career programme the trust were piloting. I was a bit hesitant at first because it involved classroom-based learning. I’m not very academic and didn’t get great GCSE results, but because I’d set my mind on working for the trust, I went for it and with the help of Suffolk college, got ready for the exams that I needed to qualify for a paid position.”

What did the Volunteer to Career programme provide?

Volunteer to Career is designed to help volunteers explore potential careers in health and care. At EEAST, clinical and volunteer leads met with Helpforce programme managers to design a volunteer to career pathway around what the trust needed support with. This allowed Matt to explore what being a paramedic would involve whilst volunteering and enabled him to undertake the FREC4 (First Response Emergency Care Level 4) course which involves 5 full days of classroom-based learning around other commitments. This was in addition to practical training he received as a CFR.

“We had three booklets to complete, and it could be quite hard to find the time to do them around my work, volunteering, and family commitments, but I got there in the end! The trainer, Jess Burtwright, was great and able to support me with elements I found challenging, like how to read an ECG (Electrocardiogram). She took the time to take an extra hour on to help me get ready for the exam! EEAST really excel at things like this!”

Upon joining the Volunteer to Career programme, Matt received a wide range of support, including:

  • How to navigate the NHS job application process
  • Preparing for interview
  • How to draw on his experience as a CFR
  • How to communicate effectively with clinicians

The benefits of volunteering and the Volunteer to Career programme

Volunteer to Career has provided Matt and other volunteers at EEAST the opportunity to join the ambulance service and enabled the trust to provide encouragement to peope who might not otherwise have considered it as a career.

“I like being able to support ambulance crews and knowing I make a difference in my local community. Volunteering has really boosted my confidence and communication skills. The Volunteer to Career programme has made my pathway into the ambulance trust a lot easier thanks to the help and guidance from people I never would have met otherwise! The training has made things a lot clearer to me on why paramedics do what they do.

“I’d recommend volunteering and Volunteer to Career to anyone. It is a great way of getting involved and really helps in supporting your job applications.”

Matt begins his new job as a qualified Emergency Care Assistant (ECA) with EEAST in April 2024.

You can learn more about the Helpforce Volunteer to Career programme here.