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BACKGROUND: Since 2002, paramedics have been working in primary care within the United Kingdom (UK), a transition also mirrored within Australia, Canada and the USA. Recent recommendations to improve UK NHS workforce capacities have led to a major push to increase the numbers of paramedics recruited into primary care. However, gaps exist in the evidence base regarding how and why these changes would work, for whom, in what context and to what extent. To understand the ways in which paramedics impact (or not) the primary care workforce, we conducted a realist review. METHODS: A realist approach aims to provide causal explanations through the generation and articulation of contexts, mechanisms and outcomes. Our search of electronic databases was supplemented with Google and citation checking to locate grey literature including news items and workforce reports. Included documents were from the UK, Australia, Canada and the Americas-countries within which the paramedic role within primary care is well established. RESULTS: Our searches resulted in 205 included documents, from which data were extracted to produce context-mechanism-outcome configurations (CMOCs) within a final programme theory. Our results outline that paramedics are more likely to be effective in contributing to primary care workforces when they are supported to expand their existing role through formal education and clinical supervision. We also found that unless paramedics were fully integrated into primary care services, they did not experience the socialisation needed to build trusting relationships with patients or physicians. Indeed, for patients to accept paramedics in primary care, their role and its implications for their care should be outlined by a trusted source. CONCLUSIONS: Our realist review highlights the complexity surrounding the introduction of paramedics into primary care roles. As well as offering an insight into understanding the paramedic professional identity, we also discuss the range of expectations this professional group will face in the transition to primary care. These expectations come from patients, general practitioners (family physicians) and paramedics themselves. This review is the first to offer insight into understanding the impact paramedics may have on the international primary care workforce and shaping how they might be optimally deployed.

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Additional roles, Allied health personnel, Ambulatory care, Extended roles, Paramedic, Primary health care, Realist review, Urgent care