Supracurricular Hijinks: St John Ambulance First Aid Course

Last week, between the 25th and 27th October, I attended a ‘First Aid at Work‘ (FAW) course at the St John Ambulance training centre in Cherry Hinton, Cambridge. I am a fairly squeamish person, so my decision to volunteer as a workplace First Aider was greeted with some amusement by my family – my nan actually laughed out loud – but I really enjoyed the course. Having a First Aid qualification does inspire a slightly conflicting mix of emotions: I’m obviously dead proud of having passed the course and amassed all these skills, but I definitely hope I never have to use them, because if I do, that means something has gone horribly wrong!

I’ll try to not ramble as much as I did in my previous post (my mum actually refused to read the whole thing because she said it was too long – thanks for the show of support, ma), but here’s a brief rundown of what an FAW course is like.

The basics: the initial FAW course lasts three days, and the qualification lasts for three years. There’s a three hour Annual Refresher course you can take once a year to keep your skills up to date, and then a two day Requalification course you’re encouraged to take within one month of your qualification expiring.

The details: This is an overview of what the course covers, which I pinched from here:

The role of the first aider Head injuries
Managing an emergency Health and safety (first aid) regulations
Communication and casualty care Low blood sugar
Asthma Poisoning
Bleeding (minor and severe) Resuscitation (adult CPR)
Bone, muscle and joint injuries Seizures (adult)
Burns and scalds Severe allergic reaction
Chest pains (including heart attack) Shock
Choking (adult) Spinal injuries
Eye injuries Stroke
Fainting Unresponsive casualty

Your performance on the course is assessed continuously over a range of short practicals, rather than in one big final exam, so all the days had a mixture of theory and assessment. The assessments can be either written, practical, or both. When I say ‘written’, I don’t mean essays; they were mostly multiple choice exercises or watching a series of videos and identifying what each casualty was suffering from. Although there are a LOT of things to remember (lists of signs and symptoms for each ailment; acronyms (such as SCALD (size, cause, age, location, depth) for assessing burns); that kind of thing), the written assessments weren’t at all daunting, and the majority of course participants got 100% on every one.

With regards to the practicals: despite the fact that those words usually fill me with dread (thanks, A-Level Chemistry), in this context I was an absolute whiz at them. I know this because, when I volunteered to take the first shift as an unresponsive casualty in the recovery position practical, one member of my group leaned over to the other and said, with absolutely no detectable sarcasm, “Oh she’s very good at that.” At long last, my ability to lie on the floor absolutely motionless has been recognised! I like to think I was quite good at assessing the scene and dressing wounds too (you know, the actually useful stuff), but sadly that isn’t what my group members chose to remark upon. Oh well, at least some of my skills were recognised…

A definite highlight of the course for me was how friendly, approachable and knowledgeable all the trainers were. We had four total – one main assessor who we saw every day, and then a new deputy assessor each day. All four were really lovely and made lots of jokes (of varying quality) which kept us entertained and stopped us getting too nervous. It was also interesting to have so many assessors because they all had different stories to tell, both about doing first aid for real and about being the casualty themselves – for example, one assessor had recently had a stroke, so she was able to give us a real insight into what that is like for patients. Another had recently performed CPR on her neighbour for 25 minutes until an ambulance had arrived – we were all exhausted after only doing it for 2 minutes, so that was definitely an eye-opening story. Hearing their stories kept us thinking about how first aid could and does happen in real life, rather than in the sterile, artificial environment of the training centre.

To be honest, there weren’t really any downsides to the course, except that the training centre is absolutely freezing and the coffee they provide to warm you up again is really, really bad. (Didn’t stop me drinking three cups a day, of course – it was REALLY cold in there.) If you’ve ever sort of thought about becoming a First Aider, I would definitely recommend taking the plunge – what have you got to lose?

Thanks for reading,



2 thoughts on “Supracurricular Hijinks: St John Ambulance First Aid Course

  1. Auntie Ali!! November 4, 2016 / 9:26 pm

    Hi you! I did the course as a trained nurse/midwife! Enjoyed it only because the trainer said anaphylactic as anafalaptac, which made me think of ‘have a flapjack!!!’ Good on you my gorgeous girl!!!


  2. John Ross Aylward November 5, 2016 / 10:11 am

    Congratulations and well done.

    As you go down the lanes and byways of your life – one day you will turn a corner and your qualification will be required. This has happened to me three times. Two of the people involved had received injuries which caused them to pass away. However the to endeavour to try and save them was there. The other case involved a heart attack and I managed to save his life; we still receive a Xmas Card from Joop Hondema every year. Joop is now 94 and still going strong; your father may remember the incident and the Hondemas – who where our neighbours in Ar
    -Riyad (Riyadh).

    Keep calm and everthing falls into place.
    With great admiration,
    Grandad John.


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