Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are mobile medical personnel who provide care to sick and injured individuals in emergency situations. The daily duties of an EMT or paramedic may include examining patients, taking vital signs, bandaging wounds, creating reports as a record of the medical services performed, and safely transporting patients to a fully equipped care facility for further treatment. Typically, a 911 operator will send an EMT or paramedic to the scene of an emergency. EMTs are trained to perform essential emergency procedures, while paramedics have more training and use more sophisticated techniques to monitor a patient's condition. For example, paramedics can provide more advanced life support care through the use of high-tech equipment, such as breathing tubes and electrocardiograms (EKG).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all EMTs and paramedics are required to complete a postsecondary education program. Most of these are non-degree award programs that can be completed in under one year. However, those who plan to continue on to become paramedics may want to pursue their associate degree in emergency medical technology, the BLS notes.
Associate degrees in emergency medical technology typically require about 1,200 hours of instruction and are offered at community colleges, technical schools, and other emergency care training facilities. Instruction helps prepare individuals for a wide variety of health care emergencies, including strokes, overdoses, seizures, auto accidents, and even delivering babies. These degree programs typically include courses in:
- Clinical experience
- Crisis intervention
- Emergency communication
- Patient transportation
- Handling hazardous materials
- Medical terminology
- Patient assessment and airway management
Students interested in becoming an EMT or paramedic should take prerequisite courses in anatomy and physiology. Other important prerequisites of the job include:
- Physical fitness that allows for bending, lifting, and kneeling
- Compassion necessary to provide emotional support to patients during emergencies
- Problem-solving skills in order to evaluate patient symptoms and provide appropriate treatments
- Communication skills that allow professionals to understand symptoms and concerns, and explain procedures to patients
How to become an EMT/Paramedic
There are three career levels in the emergency health care field:
1) EMT: Also known as an EMT-Basic, this professional cares for patients experiencing health emergencies both at the scene of the incident and in the ambulance en route to a hospital. An EMT can assess a patient's condition and manage a variety of health emergencies.
2) Advanced EMT: Also known as an EMT-Intermediate, this professional has EMT-Basic skills plus knowledge of more advanced medical procedures, such as administering intravenous fluids.
3) Paramedics: These professionals have the ability to provide more comprehensive prehospital care, such as giving medications intravenously and interpreting electrocardiograms (EKGs).
Individuals typically start out at the EMT-Basic level, then move up to the EMT-Intermediate level by gaining on-the-job experience and completing instructional courses in the performance of more advanced medical procedures. EMTs can then become paramedics after further training.
EMT level programs include about 150 hours of instruction in topics such as:
- Assessing patients' conditions
- Attending to cardiac emergencies
- Operation of field equipment
- Clearing obstructed airways
Advanced EMT programs usually require about 400 hours of instruction and cover:
- Advanced life support skills
- Using complex airway devices
- Delivering intravenous fluids and some medications
Paramedics complete EMT and Advanced EMT levels of instruction, plus courses in advanced medical skills that typically lead to an associate degree in emergency medical technology. Paramedics' wider skill sets may include stitching wounds or administering intravenous medications.
EMT and paramedic experience can also be combined with additional training to lead to related careers in emergency response, such as firefighting and police work, or positions in the medical field like nursing or physician assisting.
All states make it necessary for EMTs and paramedics to be licensed, and licensure requirements vary. Some states have their own certification programs, but many rely on certification from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). The NREMT certifies EMTs and paramedics at the EMT, Advanced EMT, and Paramedic levels.
Candidates must complete a certified education program and sit for a national exam before each level of certification can be awarded. The exam contains both written and practical parts. In addition, most EMTs and paramedics take an emergency vehicle driving course before being allowed to drive an ambulance on the job.
Note that many states require background checks to be performed on candidates, and those with criminal records may be ineligible to obtain certification.
Career and salary information
EMTs and paramedics are in demand, according to the BLS, which projects employment of EMTs and paramedics to grow 24 percent from 2014 to 2024. That could translate to 58,500 new jobs in the field during this period. This faster than average job growth is due to an aging population spurring a rise in age-related health emergencies.
The BLS reports that EMTs and paramedics made a mean annual wage of $35,110 in 2014, with the top 10 percent making $54,690 or more, and the bottom 10 percent making $20,690 or less. The states that pay EMTs and paramedics the highest mean annual salaries are:
- Washington: $57,850 per year
- Washington D.C.: $56,390 per year
- Hawaii: $48,970 per year
- Illinois: $47,580 per year
- Alaska: $46,430 per year
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics, Occupational Employment and Wages, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292041.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, EMTs and Paramedics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/emts-and-paramedics.htm
- "Difference between paramedics and EMTs", http://mediconeresponse.com/difference.html
- "Major: Emergency Medical Technology," https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-allied-health-diagnosis-intervention-treatment-emergency-medical-technology