Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are the first response portion of the larger emergency medical service. Most often they work in ambulances, arriving at the scene of traumatic accidents, administering preliminary care and delivering patients to hospitals. While they are not physicians, EMTs and paramedics are required to undergo formal training – often at the certificate or associate levels – and to pass standardized examinations. This guide examines career and education options for those interested in the field.
Emergency medical personnel care for the sick and injured in emergency situations. They respond to emergency calls, assess patients’ conditions, determine initial courses of care and transport patients to hospitals and other medical facilities. They work in teams and must react quickly and competently under stressful conditions.
For those considering a career as emergency medical services professionals, the first step is to choose a course to pursue. While the titles are often used interchangeably and their duties are similar, working as an EMT is not the same as working as a paramedic. EMTs typically complete between 120 and 150 hours of training to become certified. Paramedics, on the other hand, must complete between 1,500 to 1,800 of education and training and often earn a corresponding bachelor’s degree. Paramedics are consequently able to administer a much broader range of medical treatments.
WHO IS BEST SUITED FOR EMT & PARAMEDIC WORK?
In order to work as an EMT or paramedic, applicants must be at least 18 years old, must undergo a thorough background check and pass a drug test. Other skills and characteristics of good emergency medical professionals include:
Types of Jobs Available
- Mental stability
- Physical fitness
- Calmness under pressure
- Effective communication; multi-lingual skills are especially valuable
As with many professions, the first response medical field has grown more complex and diverse in recent years. According to the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, the traditional designations system for emergency services practitioner levels has recently been redefined. As set forth in the 2006 National EMS Scope of Practice Model, the new levels are as follows:
Career Prospects and Outlook
- Emergency Medical Responder (EMR): The most basic level of emergency medical personnel, EMRs help provide front-line emergency care as part of a team, but are not educated or authorized to take care of patients in an ambulance.
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT): Emergency medical technicians provide basic, noninvasive care to reduce morbidity and mortality during acute out-of-hospital emergencies. EMTs possess all of the skills of an EMR, but are also trained in patient transport. EMT licensure requires completion of an accredited training course.
- Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT): Further building upon the first two levels, AEMTs do everything EMRs and EMTs do, but can additionally conduct limited advanced care, such as intravenous access, advanced airway procedures and pharmacological care. AEMTs must complete all EMT training and an additional 150 hours of education.
- Paramedic: The most advanced of all EMS professionals, paramedics primarily work in urban and suburban communities and are trained in Advanced Life Support (ALS). Among their many duties, paramedics can administer a variety of medications to manage pain, handle high risk emergency childbirth, intubate, perform cricothyrotomies and interpret EKGs to stabilize certain cardiac conditions.
Society will always require emergency medical care providers, and with an aging population, demand for EMTs and paramedics continues to rise. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field is expected to grow by 33% between 2010 and 2020, and recent university studies indicate that 90 percent of students who major in EMS-related subjects find jobs in the field within six months of graduation.
According to the latest BLS estimates – conducted in 2012 – there are approximately 230,000 EMTs and paramedics employed in the country earning a median annual salary of $34,370. The top ten percent earn more than $50,000, and pay tends to be higher in large, urban areas. Top paying metropolitan areas include: Tacoma, WA; San Francisco, CA; Olympia, WA; and Bremerton-Silverdale, WA.
Nearly 50 percent of all EMTs and paramedics are employed by private ambulance companies, but the better paying government jobs can be very competitive. In addition to the required educational background, applicants may consider obtaining additional certifications or national licenses or volunteering with local disaster relief organizations. Any additional training is to the applicant’s distinct advantage.
Certification and Professional Associations
Some form of postsecondary degree or certification is required for EMTs and paramedics in virtually every jurisdiction in the United States. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians certifies EMS professionals at the national level. NREMT certification indicates the holder has demonstrated entry-level competency, but does not authorize a person to work in the field. All EMTs and paramedics are required to be licensed by the state in which they hope to work. Licensure requirements vary by state, but often NREMT certification is enough to qualify for licensure. Applicants should check with their state’s authorizing agency for specific requirements. For a list of state EMS departments, visit the National Association of EMS Officials website.
There are many scholarships available to prospective EMS students. If the applicant meets certain criteria, these can be used to fund some or even all of the student’s tuition.
Carlos R. Lillo Memorial Scholarship
James Bliss & Annette Sward Forestry & Nursing Scholarship
Ruth Elizabeth Anderson and Mary Jane Downes Trust Endowment Fund
Bound Tree Medical Legacy Scholarship
Woody Finn Memorial Scholarship Award
NAEMT First Responders Scholarship
Frank Lanza Memorial Scholarships
Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship
“No Essay” College Scholarship
My Mentor Was Me Scholarship Video Challenge
Navy Wives Clubs of America, Inc. Scholarships
Brian Jennemann Memorial Scholarship Fund
National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) Scholarship
Welles Remy Crowther Red Bandana Memorial Scholarship
Steven Kincaid Memorial Scholarship
||Open to high school students graduating from Williamson or Travis County, Texas with a minimum 2.4 GPA and plan on pursuing safety service careers.
Richard R. Heagin Memorial Scholarship
||Open to graduating high school seniors in Belmont, Jefferson, Harrison, Guernsey, Noble or Monroe County, Ohio who plan on pursuing their paramedic or firefighter certification.
Michael J. Latta EMS Scholarship
||Open to students wishing to become a paramedic. Applicants must possess a current EMT license in good standing.
Schools Offering Paramedic Study
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Professionals (CAAHEP) accredits EMT and paramedic programs. Graduating from a CAAHEP-accredited program allows the paramedic candidate to take the National Registry exam -- a requirement for registration as a professional in the field.
For prospective paramedics, earning a degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Professionals (CAAHEP) is vital. This stamp of approval allows the graduate to take the National Registry exam, which he or she needs to pass to become registered. A majority of CAAHEP programs occur at the associate level, although a handful of bachelor's degree programs exist, as well. Furthermore, the CAAHEP currently accredits just two online programs (below), so when exploring distance learning options, check their accreditation status first.
PERCOME/Kilgore College Consortium – EMT Basic, EMT Advanced, Paramedic
National EMS Academy – Recertification only
Keep in mind that degrees or certificates earned through partially-online EMT and Paramedic programs may be valid only in the state in which the program is offered.