'It's not all flashing blue lights, like in Casualty'

Nessie Hunt, 37, is an emergency-care practitioner for the South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust. She is based in Kidlington, Oxfordshire.

What do you do at work on a typical day?

I do a 12-hour minimum shift, day or night, and often work more. I start with a handover from the previous team - checking drug supplies, stocking up the vehicle, signing paperwork, and contacting control to tell them I'm available.

Then I sit and wait for a phone call. It can be anything - a road accident, someone with chest pains, a woman in labour. All the details comes through on a little screen, the patient's age, sex, where they are and what the problem is. When I turn up, I introduce myself and try to put them at ease. It may be something simple that can be treated there, or by contacting the GP. Or they may need to be transported to A&E.

What do you love about your job?

It can be very challenging, and it's varied. You never know where you're going to go, or whom you're going to meet - no two days are ever the same. And it's nice to feel that you make a difference through what you do to someone's life. Your skills can improve the outcome of a dangerous situation.

Is there anything you don't like about it?

Wearing green! I hate the uniform. And there's quite a lot of paperwork involved, which can be tedious, and you can't ever plan anything on a day that you're working, because you can be sure that something will come up and you'll have to work late. But those are pretty minor - there's nothing I really dislike about it.

What sort of skills do you need to be a brilliant paramedic?

The ability to think laterally, on your feet, and to be practical. You have to retain knowledge of different drugs and treatments; and get on with colleagues but also be able to work alone. You have to be tolerant and diplomatic, because you meet all sorts of people. Communication is really important - listening and picking out information. Often, two or three people can be talking to you at once, telling you different things - a patient might say they've only had symptoms for two days, while their relative is saying the problem has been going on for weeks. You have to be fit, so you can lift people. And you need to be trustworthy, because you go into people's homes.

Is there any advice you'd give to someone who wanted to be a paramedic?

People either love it or hate it. It's a very worthwhile job, and many people stay for years. But it probably isn't what people might expect from watching Casualty - it's not all tearing around with blue lights flashing. Sometimes, you're just taking an old lady with an infection to her GP.

What's the salary and career path like?

A trainee technician starts on £13,800, plus a 25 per cent allowance for unsocial hours - ie £17,250. A newly qualified paramedic gets £19,166, plus a 25 per cent allowance for unsocial hours - ie £23,957.

You start as a trainee technician, helping out with life-threatening calls. Then you sit a written and practical exam to become a qualified ambulance technician.

After about a year to 18 months, you can apply to do a paramedic entrance course to be a primary-care paramedic. Eventually, you can apply to do a degree course in pre-hospital emergency care, and then you can be an emergency-care practitioner, which gives you a certain level of autonomy and allows you to dispense certain drugs.

For more information on paramedic training and careers, consult the Ambulance Service Association at www.asa.uk.net; or the British Paramedic Association at www.britishparamedic.org. The Health Professions Council at www.hpc-uk.org has information on qualifications. For information on careers in the NHS, consult www.nhscareers.nhs.uk