Emergency Medical Technician Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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An emergency medical technician's mean annual salary is around $35,000, but is it worth the training and licensure requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Emergency Medical Technician Career

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) take care of people with critical injuries or with severely illnesses until they get to a hospital. Here are a few of the pros and cons of an EMT career to help you decide if it is right for you.

Pros of Becoming an EMT
Fast-paced work environment*
Opportunities to help people in need*
Gaining expertise in out-of-hospital care*
Entry-level step to becoming an instructor, dispatcher, paramedic or firefighter*

Cons of Becoming an EMT
Irregular work hours*
Physically demanding work*
Potential exposure to contagious diseases or danger from mentally unstable persons*
Higher than average work-related illness and injuries*
High stress of dealing with life and death situations*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are among the first to respond when people experience potentially life-threatening situations, such as accidents, sudden illness, gun shot wounds or childbirth. EMTs arrive on the scene, usually in response to a 911 dispatch, assess the situation and supply emergency medical treatment while they transport the victims to a hospital emergency room or trauma center.

An EMT's duties can include immobilizing a patient for transport, driving an ambulance, following a physician's instructions to take care of a sick or injured person or help transport a critical patient by helicopter. EMTs also transport patients between health facilities, such as from hospital to nursing home.

EMT skills include knowing how to apply first-aid and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They are trained in how to take care of common medical emergencies, such as a heart attack, diabetic problems, respiratory emergencies and other medical issues, while on route to the hospital. They also must know how to handle injuries such as falls and fractures. EMT-paramedics must know how to put in intravenous lines and how to give medications that are used in used in emergencies.

Career Paths and Specializations

There are several levels of EMT training. Actual designations may vary somewhat from state to state. These are the levels listed by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT):

  • Emergency medical responders (EMRs) work with the team in providing first-line care. EMRs do not work in the back of the ambulance.
  • Emergency medical technicians take care of people in the ambulance. They can use defibrillators and provide basic trauma care.
  • Advanced EMTs have done more advanced coursework beyond basic EMT training (According to the BLS, the full extent of their duties varies from state to state).
  • Paramedics are the most advanced EMTs with the most extensive training. They can provide airway management, give medications and perform and read electrocardiographs (ECGs).

Job Prospects and Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for EMTs was $31,700 in 2014. The number of jobs for EMTs and paramedics is expected to increase 23% between 2012 and 2022 which is extremely fast growth in comparison to all other careers. It's expected that more EMTs and paramedics will be needed, given the aging of the population and increased need to transport patients to specific hospitals or to hospitals other than the nearest one.

It's also expected that paid EMTs will be needed to replace people who are now volunteering. Competition is higher for local government jobs working with police and fire departments, since pay and benefits tend to be better. Most EMTs and paramedics work in large metropolitan areas for ambulatory health care services, hospitals and local governments. Some of the industries that pay the most to EMTs include state governments, waste disposal industries and the recreation industry.

What Are the Requirements?

To become an EMT, you generally have to be 18 years old, have a high school education or a GED and have no criminal record (many agencies do a criminal background check). You'll need to take an education course, which might be at your local college, university, technical school or fire or police academy. Your state office of EMS has information about training programs in your area.

According to the NREMT, EMRs need 58 hours of training, EMTs need 150 hours and AEMTs need 300 hours. Paramedics require 1200 hours of training in an accredited program. You'll need to have completed EMT training in order to become a paramedic unless you are in a combined EMT-paramedic course. Some colleges include paramedic training in their bachelor's of science programs.


All states require EMTs and paramedics to be licensed in order to practice. Most states and Washington D.C. accept national certification by the NREMT for licensure, although some state have their own licensing exams. You'll likely need to take continuing education courses in order to renew your license (usually every two to three years). Other requirements include being physically fit, having good coordination, being able to lift heavy loads and having good eyesight, with corrective lenses if needed.

Job Postings

EMT jobs are available in many locations across the country. Here are a few examples of real job postings in March 2012:

  • A private ambulance service company in Indiana is hiring EMTs and paramedics. Applicants must be high school graduates with current EMT certification. They must be able to pass the written exam, a physical exam and a map reading exam. They must have a good driving record and no felony convictions.
  • A hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, is looking for EMTs who can lift 175 lbs. and be willing to work in all weather conditions. Must have an NREMT or Georgia EMT 1 certification, a current Basic Life Support provider card and a Georgia driver's license.
  • An Army community hospital in South Carolina is hiring EMTs who are willing to do shift work in all weather. A current Basic Life Support card and NREMT certification is required. Candidates must agree to a pertussis vaccination, a medical exam and a drug test prior to starting work.

How to Stand Out in the Field

EMTs with advanced certifications and education have a better chance of standing out. Even if your state does not require it, obtaining national certification (by the NREMT) will give you a credential that is recognized across state lines. Additional education and certification beyond EMR can also increase your opportunities.

Continuing Education

Continuing education courses are required to maintain your certification, but requirements vary from state to state. Taking a variety of courses, such as those offered by the National Association of EMTs, is also likely to help you stand out.

Alternate Careers


If you thrive on the action of life and death situations and don't mind strenuous work and long work shifts but want to move beyond health care, you might consider becoming a firefighter. Firefighters handle fires, helping to save lives and protect property, but also respond to other emergencies. Additionally, most fire departments require firefighters to have at least the basic EMT certification.

A high school education is required to become a firefighter, but some postsecondary education is recommended to increase your chances. You'll also have to pass tests of physical strength and agility, a written exam and a medical evaluation. After several weeks at a training academy, there is a probation period at a fire company before you can get promoted. According to the BLS, firefighter jobs are expected to increase by 19% from 2008-2018, but there are many qualified persons applying, so expect a lot of competition. The mean annual wage for firefighters was close to $48,000 in 2011.

Registered Nurse

If you are interested in being on the front lines of medicine and have a desire to help people but want steadier hours, becoming a registered nurse (RN) might be for you. RNs treat and educate patients in a wide variety of settings and specialties. They formulate care plans for patients, which can include therapy, medication, intravenous fluids and monitoring for symptoms and response to treatments. RNs can work in hospitals, outpatient offices, homes and nursing facilities and can be found in all medical and surgical specialties.

RNs can have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an associate degree with an additional diploma, but according to the BLS, a BSN is likely to afford more employment opportunities. If you want to become an advanced practice nurse such as a nurse practitioner or nurse-midwife, you'll need a master's degree. After completing an approved training program, all nurses in the U.S. and territories must also pass the National Council Licensure Exam to be licensed to practice. Employment opportunities for RNs were expected to increase 22% from 2008 to 2018. The mean average salary for RNs was about $69,000 in 2011.

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