Becoming a Paramedic: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a paramedic career? Read real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a paramedic is a sound choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of Paramedic Careers

Paramedics are first responders to emergency situations responsible for providing medical care and transportation of patients to a hospital facility. It's important to look at the pros and cons of becoming a paramedic to decide if the career is a good fit for you.

PROS of Paramedic Careers
Favorable job prospects (expected 23% growth in job opportunities from 2012-2022)*
Fast-paced, exciting career*
Opportunity to help others*
Some workers are part of unions*

CONS of Paramedic Careers
Irregular work hours (schedule can include overnight and weekend shifts)*
High rate of mental and physical stress*
Limited career advancement possibilities (paramedic is the highest level of EMT)*
Modest pay (median annual wage was $31,700 in 2014)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Paramedics are the highest level of emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They have completed the most training and have the most experience of all EMT personnel. Thus, they are able to provide a greater level of care than other EMTs. For example, while all EMT personnel provide care and transport to patients in emergency medical situations, paramedics are allowed to perform additional duties, such as administer medication and fluids. They use complex equipment to diagnose a patient's medical situation and provide the best care possible.

Paramedics respond to emergency calls and have to be on notice throughout their shifts, the times of which can vary widely. They work with policemen and firefighters in a range of situations, such as car accidents, cardiac arrest emergencies, 911 calls, gun shot injuries and even emergency childbirth. They have varied tasks and need a wealth of knowledge to remain calm in stressful environments.

In responding to calls, paramedics will ask pertinent medical questions, check vital signs, stabilize patients, offer wound care and use medical equipment at the scene of crises and during patient transport to the hospital. They often work in ambulances but can be part of a helicopter flight crew. This can all add up to a challenging and rewarding career but not one without the pitfalls of high stress, above average injury rates and few opportunities to advance within the field.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Job opportunities for paramedics are growing at an above-average pace in relation to all careers (23%). This is a result of volunteers leaving the fold and needing to be replaced with paid employees. The number of people leaving the profession because of limited upward career mobility might be a discouraging factor; however, this creates positions for those entering the field that want to be there. Part-time positions should be opening up in small cities and rural areas, as well.

The paramedic career is characterized by modest pay; however, there is some money to be made within the profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all emergency medical service (EMS) personnel, which includes paramedics, earned a median annual salary of more than $31,700 in 2014, but those in the top 10% of earnings averaged more than $54,960 per year. State government jobs paid one of the highest wages with EMTs and paramedics earning over $54,800 per year on average (www.bls.gov).

Requirements

Training and Education Information

Paramedics are the most experienced of all EMS members and, as such, must also be the most educated. In addition to having at least a high school education, paramedics must complete EMT training, sometimes referred to as EMT-Basic, as well as gain experience in the field. They must then finish paramedic training, which is typically a 6-month to 2-year process. This process usually includes completing 1000 or more hours of clinical lab and field experience. In some cases, paramedic training and education can be part of an Associate of Science in Fire and Emergency Technology or a similar type of degree program. Paramedic training programs commonly include courses in patient health assessment, medical and trauma emergencies, emergency responsiveness and driving, as well as pharmacology.

Certification Requirements

All paramedics need to obtain certification in order to legally be employable. Certification can be obtained via The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) by passing practical and written exams (www.nremt.org). The NREMT tests for all five levels of EMS personnel. All paramedics must also complete continuing education courses in order to maintain their certifications over time. States and employers might include additional licensing requirements in order to gain employment.

What Employers Are Looking For

According to BLS, in 2010 roughly 48% of paramedics were employed by ambulance service companies. The other most common employers of paramedics included local government agencies and hospitals. Since experience is necessary, volunteering can also be beneficial, for those in small towns in particular, to help paramedics land career opportunities. As of March 2012, employment opportunities included the following job postings:

  • A hospital in Georgia was seeking a full-time and experienced paramedic who was currently licensed and had a basic life saving (BLS) and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) card. Job duties included EMS services, transport of patients and vehicle and equipment upkeep.
  • A North Carolina company sought a paramedic with 2-5 years of experience who would work nights and weekends. Minimum age of 21 and all current licenses were required for this part-time position.
  • An ambulance company in Ohio sought a full-time paramedic or EMT with current license. Duties included driving, patient care and filling out reports. Job paid $14/hour.
  • A Pennsylvania ambulance service sought new graduates who were licensed paramedics. Job required emergency and non-emergency patient care as well as some public service or public relations assignments. Position was full-time.

How to Stand Out

This field is based on training in medical service and responsiveness, so there are a few ways to help you get noticed. First of all, this can be a physically demanding career, so being in good physical shape should be of assistance. Also, having as much schedule flexibility as possible can help, since paramedics work shifts that run around the clock, including nights and weekends. You make yourself more attractive to employers who need this flexibility by being open to work at any time.

Being able to speak another language can be particularly when dealing with the severity and high stress of many of the medical emergencies. Victims whose first language is not English might not be able to communicate as effectively when injured or under stress. In these cases, the ability to communicate with that individual can be potentially a life-saving trait, so you might want to consider taking courses in a foreign language to stand out in the paramedic field.

Continuing Education

Due to an increasing demand for better care by both patients and their families, the BLS notes that paramedics who have completed advanced certifications and education will likely have the best job prospects. Completing courses from the Continuing Education Coordinating Board for Emergency Medical Services is one way to get a leg up (www.cecbems.org). Their affiliations with several EMS sponsors, including the NREMT, make them well respected within the field.

Obtaining membership with a nationally affiliated organization in the field can also be beneficial. An organization like the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians provides members with networking and continuing education opportunities. There is strength in numbers, and being connected with others in the profession can also help you cope with the stress of the career field by providing alternative perspectives.

Other Careers to Consider

If you are interested in the healthcare aspect of the paramedic career but don't want to face the danger of emergency medical situations, perhaps you might want to consider becoming a nurse. Registered nurses (RNs) provide healthcare to patients, often once a paramedic drops off a patient at a hospital. RNs have in-demand careers, with an expected 26% job growth through 2020. Their careers can still be stressful, but the upward mobility into other areas of healthcare and the increase in pay can be significant. RNs earned a mean income of over $69,000 per year in 2011, and RNs can also become advanced practice nurses, where the salaries can stretch into six figures. More education will be needed, but there are many different specialties to consider within the booming healthcare field with expanding job opportunities.

If you are more in tune with the excitement and risk of a paramedic career versus the medical care aspect, perhaps you could become a policeman or firefighter. Though job opportunities for firefighters and policemen are expected to grow at a below-average rate - 9% for firefighters and 7% for policemen and detectives - both careers focus more on helping people versus medical skills. Neither career choice would require significantly more education, yet both come with pension plans. Earnings within either field are better than for paramedics, and each also offers a better career trajectory. Police officers made a mean annual income of over $56,000 in 2011, which is higher than the top end of paramedics. Work schedules can be hectic with either career choice, but both come with the pride of performing a civic service.

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