Becoming an Emergency Medical Responder: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of an emergency medical responder career? Read real job descriptions, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming an emergency medical responder is a good fit for you.
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Pros and Cons of Emergency Medical Responder Careers

Emergency medical responders (EMRs) can be medical aides, technicians and paramedics, and help people in urgent medical need. Think about the benefits and drawbacks of working as an emergency medical responder before deciding if it's right for you.

PROS of EMR Careers
Excellent job growth (expected 23% from 2012-2022)*
Reward of helping others and potentially saving lives*
Few career entry requirements*
Several levels of training available to advance career*
Career can offer excitement*

CONS of EMR Careers
Relatively low-paying career (median annual wages of $31,700 as of May 2014)*
Mentally and physically stressful*
EMR is an entry-level position*
Possible 24-hour, round-the-clock schedules*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Emergency medical responders are often the first on the scene of health crises, like heart attacks or traffic accidents. EMRs must communicate with their patients to determine whether any preexisting medical conditions exist, while also deciding on the correct initial treatment of the patient based on the current situation.

Some of the duties EMRs provide include administering CPR, stabilizing the patient for transportation and reporting incidents to superiors. In their jobs, EMRs use equipment such as splints and wraps to address bone breaks or wounds. They might use respiratory devices to provide air to their patients. In some non-emergency cases, EMRs simply transport patients from one facility to another, such as hospitals that specialize in a specific type of treatment.

Emergency medical responders are the entry level of emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Thus, they have completed the first level or emergency medical technician basic (EMT-B) level of training and, in general, will be the least experienced of all EMT personnel. The care that EMRs can provide is generally the most basic of emergency services, compared to EMT intermediates (EMT-I) or paramedics.

Emergency medical services (EMS) careers on all levels can be filled with excitement and stress. Employment opportunities in the field regularly arise; since there are limited advancement opportunities and low pay compared to alternative fields, the turnover rate is high. EMRs must find a way to resolve these issues in order to have career longevity.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

Naturally, the earnings of emergency medical responders will vary based on where they are located. Unfortunately, as a whole, the career is known to have modest pay rates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), metropolitan areas with higher concentrations of people will have the highest pay and greatest need for EMRs ( Though salary information specific to EMRs is unavailable, the BLS states that all EMS personnel, including EMRs, EMTs and paramedics, earned median annual salaries of $31,700 as of May 2014. Still, if you advance within the field and obtain more training, the top 10% of professionals in the industry made over $54,000 per year, which is a significant bump for a potentially satisfying career.

As mentioned, EMRs have favorable job prospects overall. The field is growing much faster than the average career, at a rate of 23% from 2012-2022. According to the BLS, many are leaving the profession for greener pastures, which creates openings. Additionally, an aging population and an increase in treatment centers and hospitals that specialize in certain types of healthcare might help fuel growth. Still, job opportunities will be best for those who have education beyond the basic level.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Info

Emergency medical services can be life saving, so medical first responders must complete formal training in order to enter the career field. All candidates must be at least 18 years of age and have at least a high school education or its equivalent to be considered for a training program. EMT-Basic or first responder training programs usually last for just 1-3 months. The curriculum might also be designed around an hour-based training requirement. EMR students ride along with professionals as part of their training. Though not every scenario can be covered, their education addresses common emergency situations, including cardiac arrest and heart attacks, airway and respiratory problems, emergency childbirth, broken bones and wound care.

Additional Education Information

As mentioned, there are several levels of EMS training. EMRs need only to complete a short training program. Still, looking at the field as a long-term career opportunity, it is advisable to complete additional training. This can boost income, employment qualifications and, of course, knowledge. Some training programs can take up to two years and result in an associate's degree. The levels of EMS training include:

  • EMR or first responder
  • EMT-Basic
  • EMT-Intermediate or advanced
  • Paramedic

Certification Requirements

Medical first responders are required to be certified or licensed in all 50 states in order to legally practice in the field. Several states require EMR candidates to pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification exam in order to become licensed ( Other states mandate that candidates need to pass a state exam testing their knowledge of EMS procedures. Individuals then become licensed and must renew their certifications every 2-3 years. According to the NREMT, EMRs need at least 12 hours of continuing education in order to maintain certification or become recertified in the field. Certification is available for every level of emergency medical technician.

What Employers are Looking For

The BLS noted that about 50% of emergency medical responders were employed by hospitals or local governments in 2010. However, ambulance service companies were the largest employer of emergency services personnel, as they employ roughly 45% of EMRs. While experience isn't mandatory, volunteering may be beneficial to help obtain career opportunities, particularly for people who live in non-metropolitan areas. Below are some career postings, which were available as of March 2012:

  • An EMT with at least 1-year of experience is needed in Indiana. Full-time position pays $11-12.50/hr. Duties include working with RNs, providing transport to patients and reporting vital health information.
  • A mobility assistance company in New Jersey seeks an EMT. Position offers benefits and encourages newly certified applicants. Position also pays for CEUs (continuing education units).
  • In California, an EMT with at least three years of experience is desired by a healthcare services organization. Duties include life support care and patient transport. Prefers bilingual candidates with computer skills.
  • A Texas-based company seeks an emergency response technician who has completed at least EMT-basic training. Ad lists several skills and certification requirements, including fire training. Microsoft software knowledge desired.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Based on the job listings above, there are a few things you can do to stand out in the field. Completing additional education in some form or another is at the heart of many of these enhancements. First, completing computer courses might be helpful, as many positions seem to request at least basic knowledge in this area. Additionally, having any bilingual skills can allow you to stand out. This is a position where this skill can be particularly beneficial, since you may be faced with potential life or death situations on the job and the ability to communicate with as many people as possible is paramount. Completing foreign language courses, particularly those common to your region of employment may be noteworthy.

Other things might make candidates more attractive to employers as well, such as being physically fit or completing an education beyond high school prior to taking emergency response courses. Some career opportunities have noted that completing some college coursework would be desired. Additionally, being available to work a flexible job schedule can be beneficial, because many facilities necessitate being available at any time of the day or night. Potential employers might find you more attractive if you are able to work weekends and nights as opposed to just a set daytime schedule.

Continuing Education

Completing continuing education is really more vital for career advancement, but the BLS notes that those who have completed advanced training or certification within the field will have the best career prospects. Since there are five levels of EMT certification available through the NREMT, there are naturally many levels of training available as well. We've touched on the most common training levels, which include EMT-basic, intermediate and paramedic. Both patients and employers are demanding an increase in the quality of care, so by completing any additional training, your potential for hire can be subsequently improved, as well as your career trajectory and earning potential.

Alternative Career Options

People in this line of work must be calm under stressful conditions as well as be able to think and act quickly. Those skills can translate to a number of related careers. So, if being an emergency medical responder or any of the more advanced levels of EMT doesn't sound right for you, whether in the short or long term, then perhaps you might want to consider an alternative career.

Registered Nurse

If you are interested in EMS careers because you get to help people and provide medical care, then you might consider becoming a nurse instead. Registered nurses (RNs) have similarly strong job growth at 26% through 2020, as part of a booming healthcare field. RNs make significantly more money than EMRs or EMTs as well; they earned roughly $69,000 per year on average in May 2011. Their careers can also be stressful, and you'll need more education to enter the field, but there are excellent advancement opportunities and an assortment of possible specializations to discover once you are part of the nursing community.


If you like the idea of risk and excitement in your career, you may want to consider becoming a fireman. In addition to fighting fires, firefighters also must typically know how to perform EMT duties. Their careers are only growing by a rate of 9% through 2020, but their education requirements are relatively basic. Firemen are paid more on average than EMRs, earning almost $48,000 per year, and pension plans are also generally strong within the field. Their work schedules can fluctuate, and there is inherent danger within the field, but the career comes with some level of pride in performing a public safety service.

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