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. A 911 operator will typically 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).
Nature of Work
According to the BLS, EMTs and paramedics generally seek employment at hospitals, government agencies and ambulance services. Although many paramedics work about 40 hours per week, some positions may require long shifts, with employees typically working 12 to 24 hours in a stretch.
The emergency medical field can be physically and emotionally grueling, and as a result, the rate of workplace illnesses and injuries can be higher for EMTs and paramedics than for workers in other professions. Because of the physical rigors of the job, they may be vulnerable to sprains and strains, and their proximity to contagious patients may sometimes lead to exposure to illnesses like HIV and hepatitis B.
How to Become an EMT/Paramedic
There are three career levels in the emergency healthcare 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.
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
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.
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
3) Paramedics: These professionals have the ability to provide more comprehensive prehospital care, such as giving medications intravenously and interpreting electrocardiograms (EKGs).
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.
Individuals typically start out at the EMT-Basic level, then move up to the EMT-Intermediate level by gaining practical experience and completing instructional courses in the performance of more advanced medical procedures. EMTs can then be eligible to become paramedics after further training.
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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), EMTs and paramedics are required to complete a postsecondary education program. Most of these are non-degree award programs that typically 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 Degree Programs
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 educational facilities. Instruction helps prepare individuals for a wide variety of healthcare 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
Program Requirements and Prerequisites
Before being admitted into an emergency medical training program, prospective paramedics and EMTs must first complete a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as earn a certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). In addition, students who wish to pursue this field are encouraged to take courses in anatomy and physiology in high school.
After students have met the basic requirements, they can go on to enroll in a program offered by a community college, emergency care training facility, or technical school. The amount of training that these programs require depends on the level of the program. .
Students who enroll in basic EMT training programs are required to complete 150 hours of training, but with 300 hours of training, they can receive an advanced EMT certification. .
Those who want to become a paramedic must receive more in-depth training, which generally takes about 1,200 hours to complete. .
No matter what program they enroll in, students ready to work as an EMT/paramedic should be given the theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience they need to obtain a license when they graduate.
Depending on what state they live in, EMT and paramedic students may also be required to complete ambulance driver training.
EMT/Paramedic Certification and Licensures
Paramedics and EMTs are required to obtain a license from their state, although the licensing requirements vary from state to state. Generally this process involves passing an examination -- either one that is specifically administered by the state, or the one given by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). The NREMT certifies EMTs and paramedics at the EMT, Advanced EMT, and Paramedic levels. In addition, some states require EMTs and paramedics to undergo a background check, as those with a criminal history may be barred from working in this field.
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.
Skills and Qualities
The rigors of the emergency medical profession may not be for everyone. As a result, people who pursue EMT and paramedic jobs should have certain physical and personal characteristics in order to be successful.Important skills and qualities of the job include:
- Physical fitness that allows for bending, lifting, and kneeling
- Compassion and patience 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. Listening and interpersonal skills are important to help people during times of distress
Career and Salary Information
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), there has been an increased need for these professionals because of factors such as the aging population around the country, natural disasters, car accidents and people becoming injured by acts of violence. The table below provides data on wages and career outlook.
- 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
- "Emergency Medical Services Workers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed May 25, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ems/data2009.html
- EMTs and Paramedics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/emts-and-paramedics.htm
- What are the requirements to be a paramedic?, EMS1, Accessed May 25, 2014,http://www.ems1.com/careers/articles/1058465-What-are-the-requirements-to-be-a-paramedic/
- What's the Difference Between an EMT and a Paramedic?, UCLA Center for Prehospital Care, Accessed May 25, 2014, https://www.cpc.mednet.ucla.edu/node/27