North East Connected

Young lifesaver student gets England call up


Choosing a career as a paramedic can be enormously rewarding, but also very challenging, but for one Sunderland student his outlet – rugby league – has seen him step out of the classroom and the ambulance and into the dressing rooms at England.

Aaron Harlow-Stephenson is in the first year of his BSc Paramedic Science degree at the University of Sunderland. It is a career that he has always dreamed of and that he has pursued with passion – but it is not the 25-year-old’s only passion. He is also a talented rugby league player.

“I’ve probably been playing rugby for almost 20 years now,” says Aaron, from Durham. ‘I’ve played for Sunderland RFC, Blaydon, Midlands Hurricanes, Keighley Cougars, Newcastle Thunder – but it was a huge surprise to be called up for England.

“Being a part of England University Rugby League squad will allow me to play in the Presidents Cup games and then hopefully in the Four Nations later in the year.”

Before coming to university Aaron was a firefighter for Country Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue, and a Clinical Care Assistant (CCA) for the North East Ambulance Service, assisting paramedics on emergency calls.

“Training to be a paramedic was a natural progression, and it’s a career I wanted all my life,” he says. “I chose to become a CCA when my uncle sadly passed away in an accident at work. I knew then that I wanted to help people in their time of need.”

Though becoming a qualified paramedic is Aaron’s greatest ambition, he is not about to give up on rugby, despite the challenges.

“There are times in the season when balancing the training and gym work around studies does become difficult, but I’m willing to sacrifice parts of my social life to aim for my dreams of staying a professional player and becoming a paramedic.

“Rugby helps reduce stress as it gives me an escape from reality, like I always say when I’m on the pitch nothing matters for 80 minutes except the game. I think having a healthy balance between work and sport is essential to good mental health.”

Aaron is the first to admit that training as a paramedic and playing for England is a huge challenge, but he is being supported by the University of Sunderland’s Development Trust, who have awarded Aaron the Mary and Brian Archer Opportunity Award. The award which supports opportunities for aspirational students, was created in memory of Brian Archer, Head of the Civil Engineering Department in the 1960s and 70s, and his wife Mary Archer who taught in the University’s Pharmacy Department.

They were both true advocates of the University of Sunderland and these scholarships have been set up to continue their passion for helping students receive the greatest opportunities through education.

“The support I’m getting from the University will allow me to focus on my studies more,” says Aaron. “I won’t have to work as many hours to balance out costs, and it also allows me to spend more time studying at home and doing extra revision in between gym and pitch sessions instead of worrying about work. The support of the Mary and Brian Archer Opportunity Award has really taken the pressure off.”

The University of Sunderland offers scholarships to applicants, undergraduates and graduates to improve their opportunities, studies and professional career aspirations. To find out more about what is available go to:

For more information on the Mary and Brian Archer Opportunity Award, visit:

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