EMT and Paramedics - A LearningPath.org Guide

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Editor's Note

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Dear Reader,

Whether you're just starting your career in the emergency medical services field or currently working as an emergency medical technician (EMT), you can choose from a variety of career levels and specializations. EMTs provide crucial pre-hospital support for crowded emergency departments and for an aging baby boomer population facing higher medical emergency risks.

At LearningPath.org, we understand that decisions affecting your career shouldn't be taken lightly. That's why this guide incorporates careful research and relevant information to help you make informed decisions about participating in the emergency medical services field. You can also explore our site's extensive bank of EMT-related articles.

We hope these pages help you find your path.

Happy reading,
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Citlali Tolia
Lead Editor, INSIDE Guides

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Quick Facts

  • EMTs and paramedics don't work solely in ambulances; they may work in many types of emergency response vehicles, including helicopters.
  • Many EMTs and paramedics work more than 40 hours a week and may work irregular hours.
  • The five states with the highest average yearly salaries for EMTs and paramedics are Alaska, Hawaii, District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington.
  • In 2010, the average salary for EMTs and paramedics was $33,300.
  • EMT certification levels range from first responder to paramedic, but there are also specialty certifications for critical care and flight paramedics.
  • There were over 220,000 EMT and paramedic jobs in the U.S. in 2010.
EMT and Paramedics

Are You EMT Material?

EMTs and paramedics possess certain characteristics that can help with their success in the EMS field. If you check 12+, this could be the career for you!

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EMT and Paramedic Career Levels

First Responder

As a first responder, you are the first to arrive at the scene of an emergency and provide basic medical aid, such as checking vital signs, staunching wounds, keeping airways clear and lifting patients. When responding to an emergency, you may assess the situation, stabilize victims and reassure bystanders. First responders may be used by law enforcement teams, fire departments and rescue squads. If the emergency is crime-related, you may also ensure that evidence at the scene remains untouched.

First Aid Kit


EMT-Basics deliver a wider range of pre-hospital support than first responders. You usually work under the supervision of an EMT-Paramedic as you provide care to patients at the scene of an emergency and en route to the hospital. When possible, you may try to establish whether the patient has preexisting conditions before determining appropriate medical treatments. As an EMT-Basic, you're generally qualified to ventilate patients, provide resuscitation, immobilize injured extremities, control hemorrhaging and manage trauma. You may also be the one to drive the ambulance, or other type of emergency response vehicle, to the scene when responding to 911 dispatcher calls.


EMT-Intermediates perform many of the same duties as EMT-Basics but are also authorized to provide more advanced

EMT and Paramedics
Paramedics moving a patient from a helicopter

forms of life support, such as using defibrillators, administering IVs and giving certain medications. You'll need to already be certified as an EMT-Basic to be eligible for  EMT-Intermediate training. Keep in mind that your job duties can vary considerably by state, but the two widely recognized EMT-Intermediate levels are the EMT-I/85 and the EMT-I/99. The main difference between these two distinctions is EMT-I/99 training further develops on preexisting EMT-I/85 curriculum.


Paramedics are the most highly trained of EMTs, who have completed EMT-Basic

certification and 1-2 years of additional paramedic training. As a paramedic, you may assess the situation and supervise EMTs for a variety of emergencies, such as car crashes, home accidents and premature childbirths. You perform many of the same duties as other EMTs but may accept a higher degree of personal responsibility for administering proper medication dosages, assessing an emergency scene, restocking supplies and making judgment calls on the most appropriate forms of pre-hospital care. Your employers can include private emergency service providers, fire departments, law enforcement divisions and hospitals.

An EMS Guru: James O. Page

James O. Page started to leave his mark on the world of emergency services while serving as a Los Angeles firefighter from 1959-1973. In addition to having been a certified EMT in both California and New Jersey, Page was a licensed attorney, writer, EMS director and publisher.

While still working as a firefighter, he completed law school and passed the California Bar exam. In 1971, Page served as a technical consultant and writer for two seasons of the popular NBC show Emergency! He was then appointed EMS chief for the entire state of North Carolina from 1973-1975 and organized a statewide emergency response agency. As a publisher, he also helped found the Journal of Emergency Medical Services in 1979.

Even before his death in 2004, he was sometimes called the father of modern EMS and received numerous awards and recognition for his deeds. By devoting his leadership skills to EMS management and communicating ideas to the public through his writing and publishing, James O. Page has laid a solid foundation for future EMTs and paramedics.

EMT and Paramedics

EMT Employers

Breakdown of EMT Employment by Industry

EMT and Paramedic Career Paths

Ambulance EMTs and Paramedics

Ambulance EMTs and paramedics navigate traffic in a municipal setting on a regular basis. Your main employers are usually private EMS providers and hospitals. Working as an  ambulance EMT  may be the career path for you if you'd like to provide pre-hospital support in home environments and at

traffic accident scenes. If you aren't certain about pursuing an EMT career, this path may allow you to test the waters through volunteer EMT positions.

Tactical EMTs and Paramedics

Are you ready to put your EMT skills to the test in high-risk situations that may involve search and rescue missions, combat zones and law enforcement operations? Tactical EMTs and paramedics work closely with military personnel, police and SWAT team members. Your duties can differ substantially from standard EMT tasks,

EMT and Paramedics
Paramedics helping a patient on a stretcher

and specialized training is required. Tactical EMT training programs focus on delivering medical support in dangerous, stressful settings and are designed for those with EMT-Basic certification or above.

Flight Paramedics

Flight paramedics administer life support to patients being transported via helicopter or other aircraft to medical facilities. Like tactical EMTs and paramedics, your services may be used in combat zones, but most opportunities are hospital-based. Employers prefer certified paramedics with 3-5 years of

experience in a busy EMS system and may require flight paramedic and critical care specialty certifications.

EMS Management

You generally need to have an associate's degree or higher in an EMS-related area to be eligible for supervisory EMS worker positions. Professionals in this field may coordinate budgeting, scheduling and training for an EMS program as well as public relations. Your career options can range from overseeing private EMS providers to working in areas of homeland security or organizing massive disaster relief efforts.

The Career Wizard

  • What's the job outlook for EMTs and paramedics?
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted average job growth of nine percent for EMTs and paramedics for the 2008-2018 decade. An aging population with a greater likelihood of medical emergencies, overcrowded emergency departments and hospitals that increasingly offer specialized treatments may all play a part in the growing demand for your EMT services. You may also enjoy better job prospects if you possess higher levels of EMT training and certification.

  • Do I need a college degree to be an EMT?
  • The short answer is no. You need to complete state-approved training programs and meet licensing requirements, but a college degree is not required for any EMT level. However, you do have the option of earning an associate's degree while completing your paramedic training, which may make you more marketable to employers. This degree can also serve as a foundation for earning a higher-level degree in an EMS-related area, which is often required for EMS management positions.

  • Are there any risks involved with being an EMT?
  • The risks can depend on the type of emergency situations and patients you find yourself responding to. Having to lift patients can lead to back injuries, and being in the proximity of sirens can cause some hearing loss. You may treat patients with diseases that can be transmitted via bodily fluids. Dealing with trauma and suffering on a regular basis can also take an emotional toll. This challenging career isn't for everyone, but the opportunity to save lives can be very rewarding.

EMT and Paramedics

Inside Track

You can choose from multiple levels of EMT training and certification, so planning your approach can be invaluable for a smooth entry into the EMS field. Whether this involves keeping your certification or looking for ways to advance your career, there are ways for you to improve your job prospects. Below are some steps to consider as you think about your future EMT career:

Carefully Consider EMT-Basic Certification

While first responder training can often be completed in a single course, you may want to consider starting with EMT-Basic training instead. EMT-Basic certification is the minimum requirement for training for higher positions, such as EMT-Intermediate or paramedic. If you know you want a long-term EMT career, then entering the field as an EMT-Basic can provide a solid foundation for career advancement.

Use Your EMT Experience to Your Advantage

If you're intending to earn a college degree during your EMT career, keep in mind that your program may accept past EMT experience as college credit. In some cases, especially if you're a licensed paramedic, you may be eligible to enroll in an accelerated undergraduate program. In addition, having proof of remaining active in an EMS system is usually necessary for you to keep your EMT license.

Get Licensed and Certified

Research your state's licensing requirements carefully. Earning National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification is part of the licensing requirements for many states, although your state is the final authority on granting licensure and may have additional qualifications. Even if your state doesn't require NREMT certification, you can earn it to increase your job options if you decide to practice as an EMT in another state.

Degree Options for EMTs and Paramedics

First Responder Training

EMT training programs cover many of the same foundational skills for administering medical aid in emergency situations, but the breadth and depth of topics covered depends on the   level. In a first responder certificate program, you may study topics of patient assessment, ethical issues, patient transportation and airway management. Some states require first responders to get recertified every few years.

EMT-Basic Training

EMT-Basic training includes practical emergency department experience in addition to classroom instruction. Your areas of study can also cover cardiac arrest, emergency childbirth, spinal injuries and triage training as well as caring for fractures and wounds. EMT-Basic training can be completed in a matter of months and is offered by community colleges and EMS providers.

EMT-Intermediate Training

EMT-Intermediate training courses typically cover pharmacology, advanced airway management, intravenous access, medications, anatomy and trauma treatment. There may be differences between  EMT-Intermediate  programs designed for EMT-I/85s and EMT-I/99s, but your program's curriculum should be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

EMT and Paramedics

Paramedic Training and Associate's Degree Options

During paramedic training, which takes 1-2 years to complete, you'll learn advanced life support procedures and how to use specialized medical equipment in addition to accumulating substantial clinical experience and field time. In addition to paramedic training, you may want to consider an associate's degree program that prepares you for the paramedic certification exam. Earning your associate's degree can also lead to careers in public administration and emergency operations coordination or serve as a starting point for earning your bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's Degree in Emergency Medical Services

You can choose from a variety of emergency medical services (EMS) college degree programs; to advance your EMT career. Bachelor's degree programs in EMS are designed to prepare students for leadership and management positions for a variety of emergency service providers. As a student in one of these programs, you may complete coursework in EMS systems, disaster relief, healthcare ethics, EMS trends and public administration. If you're a paramedic in good standing, you may be eligible to enroll in an accelerated version of your bachelor's degree program and bypass some of the core curriculum.

Master's Degree in Emergency Medical Services

Master's degree programs also focus on preparing students for managerial and supervisory positions in the EMS field and require applicants to have completed a bachelor's degree program. These 2-year programs provide training for directing massive relief efforts at local and regional levels. As a graduate student, you may cover topics in healthcare enterprises, disaster planning, emergency management law and strategic emergency response.

Paramedica Standing behind an ambulence

EMT Licensing and Certifications

All 50 states have licensing requirements for EMTs and paramedics. Most states require applicants to earn the appropriate level of certification through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) for licensure, although some states do administer their own certification exams for licensure. NREMT certification is available from the first responder to paramedic level, but the basic steps of the certification process are the same:

  • Be at least 18 years old (except for the first responder certification) and have completed an EMT course with curriculum approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. You will also need to verify that you are CPR certified.
  • Successfully pass both a computer adaptive test and a practical exam that test your competence in skills suitable to your EMT level. If needed, you are given three attempts to pass the practical exam and can retake the computer adaptive test up to six times with at least 15 days in between each test attempt.
  • Apply for recertification every two years by remaining active in an EMS system and meeting continuing education requirements, which usually involves taking an EMT refresher course.
EMT and Paramedics

Top States for Highest EMT Salary

EMT Average Annual Salary

Industry Mean Annual Wage
Ambulatory EMS Providers $30,570
Hospitals $33,780
Local Government $36,960
State Government $49,960
Home Services $42,240
Source: bls.gov

Get Money for EMS Education

NAEMT EMS Practitioner Scholarships

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians offers several scholarships to aspiring EMTs of various levels, including $5,000 for EMT-Basics entering paramedic courses. Applicants must have active membership in the NAEMT and earn certification after completing their EMT training.

Michael J. Latta Paramedic Scholarship

This scholarship is designed for EMT-Basics preparing to enter a paramedic training program. Scholarship amounts can vary but usually cover textbook costs, and preferred applicants should demonstrate good work ethic, courage and humor in the face of adversity.

Legacy Scholarships

These scholarships are offered by Bound Tree Medical, an EMS equipment distributor, to the daughters and sons of EMT personnel and firefighters. Successful applicants can receive up to $500 for an EMT-Basic program and $2,500 for a paramedic training program.

Brian Jennemann Memorial Paramedic Fund

Friends and family of Brian Jennemann established this fund, which offers up to four scholarships a year. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and be accepted into a paramedic program. The scholarship covers up to $1,500 of tuition costs.

EMT and Paramedics
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