How to Become a Paramedic/EMT: Paramedic Schools and EMT Training

Becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic typically takes 1-3 years, depending on your career goals and educational path. EMT training focuses on life support techniques for first-response situations, including CPR, tourniquet application, and wound treatment. Paramedics perform more advanced procedures than EMTs and therefore require more extensive education and training.

This guide reviews the basic responsibilities of EMTs and paramedics and highlights the educational steps needed to enter the field. The following sections also cover average earning potential and projected job growth for occupations in the field.

What Does a Paramedic/EMT Do?

Paramedics and EMTs work in a variety of capacities, including providing immediate medical treatment for sick and injured people in emergency situations and transporting patients to medical facilities.

Emergency medical technicians respond to 911 calls and medical emergencies. EMTs transport patients to hospitals, perform basic medical tasks, and act as first responders. These professionals must work well under pressure to make life-saving decisions in high-stress environments.

EMTs work closely with other medical professionals, including paramedics, police, and firefighters.

The responsibilities of an EMT depend on the professional's education and training. Some first responders only administer basic care, while EMTs with more training can perform more complex medical procedures in the field and on the way to the hospital.

What's the Difference Between an EMT and Paramedic?

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

  • EMTs provide basic medical care to patients in the field, including stopping external bleeding, applying neck braces, and administering CPR.
  • Many EMTs work for ambulance services, hospitals, and fire and police departments.
  • EMTs must complete 120 to 150 hours of training to obtain certification.
  • EMTs take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam.
  • Most EMT training programs do not award a degree.

Paramedic

  • Paramedics provide advanced medical care to patients in the field, including administering medication, inserting IVs, resuscitating patients, and providing breathing support using tubes and ventilation devices.
  • In addition to working for employers that hire EMTs, paramedics can work in air ambulances and for other advanced emergency services.
  • Paramedics must complete 1,200 to 1,800 hours of training to qualify for certification.
  • Paramedics take the NREMT and the National Registry Paramedic cognitive exam.
  • Some paramedic training programs offer a two-year degree.

Source: UCLA Center for Prehospital Care

Did You Know?

According to the 2018 Annual Report of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, there are currently more than 400,000 nationally certified emergency medical services personnel in the United States.

Paramedic/EMT Salary and Job Growth Data

Paramedic/EMT Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paramedics and EMTs earn a median salary of $34,320 per year. However, paramedics typically have a higher earning potential and more professional opportunities than EMTs. The highest-earning 10% of EMTs and paramedics make more than $58,640 per year.

The following table shows the highest-paying states and areas for paramedics.

1. Washington

Annual Median Salary: $67,600

2. District of Columbia

Annual Median Salary: $57,270

3. Hawaii

Annual Median Salary: $54,370

4. Maryland

Annual Median Salary: $49,490

5. Alaska

Annual Median Salary: $47,780

The map below shows details about earners in the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentiles for each state in 2018.

FL TX NM AZ AK CA NV UT CO OR WA ID HI OK MT WY ND SD NE KS MN IA MO AR LA MS AL GA SC IL WI MI IN OH TN KY NC WV VA PA NY ME VT NH RI CT NJ DE MA MD DC

Paramedic/EMT Job Growth And Outlook

The BLS projects a 7% job growth for EMTs and paramedics from 2018 to 2028, faster than the national average for all occupations.

The BLS projects an increase in aging populations that will drive up the demand for responders to age-related health emergencies. Medical services across the nation may require more EMTs and paramedics to respond to the rise in medical incidents.

The following states display the highest projected growth rates for paramedics and EMTs.

1. Colorado

Growth Rate: 32.4%

2. Arizona

Growth Rate: 31%

3. Utah

Growth Rate: 30.4%

4. Georgia

Growth Rate: 23.8%

5. New York

Growth Rate: 23.4%

6. Tennessee

Growth Rate: 21.4%

7. California

Growth Rate: 21.1%

8. Washington

Growth Rate: 20.2%

9. Virginia

Growth Rate: 20.1%

10. Texas

Growth Rate: 19.7%

The map below shows the growth rate, employment growth, and average annual openings for professionals in each state.

FL TX NM AZ AK CA NV UT CO OR WA ID HI OK MT WY ND SD NE KS MN IA MO AR LA MS AL GA SC IL WI MI IN OH TN KY NC WV VA PA NY ME VT NH RI CT NJ DE MA MD DC

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Projections Managing Partnership

How to Become a Paramedic/EMT

To become an EMT, candidates need a high school diploma or GED credential. EMTs must earn CPR certification before enrolling in a postsecondary emergency medical technology program. These programs last 1-2 years and do not confer degrees.

Paramedics must complete additional training, which may require an associate degree in emergency care training.

1. Complete EMT Basic Training

Both EMTs and paramedics must obtain CPR certification. Organizations such as the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association regularly provide CPR training.

EMTs and paramedics must also complete a postsecondary emergency medical technology program through a community college, technical college, or university. These programs last 1-2 years and teach students how to assess, care for, and transport patients.

Aspiring paramedics then pursue a two-year associate degree in emergency medical services. These programs prepare learners to administer medications, insert IVs, and resuscitate patients.

2. Pass a National or State Exam to Become Certified

EMTs and paramedics both need state certification to practice. Some states require a state-specific certification exam. However, most states accept the NREMT exam. To sit for the exam, candidates must have completed a state-approved training course within the last two years.

The NREMT exam comprises a cognitive test and a psychomotor portion. Candidates have six attempts to pass the cognitive exam and can reapply to take the cognitive exam 15 days after receiving their results. Candidates take the psychomotor exam through a state emergency services office or approved training site.

Paramedics must also pass the National Registered Paramedics exam.

3. Complete Advanced EMT Training (Optional)

Some EMTs complete additional training. These advanced courses do not qualify EMTs to become paramedics. However, they do prepare EMTs for the Advanced EMT exam from the NREMT.

Advanced training courses require about 150 to 200 hours of fieldwork. Many courses require internship rotations in an emergency room and an emergency services agency.

4. Complete a Two-Year Degree Program (Optional)

Community colleges, technical institutes, and universities offer associate degree programs in emergency care training. Associate programs in the field typically cover physiology, advanced life-support techniques, and anatomy. While many states require paramedics to earn a degree, this step is optional for EMTs.

What Paramedic/EMT Training Is Available?

An EMT diploma or certificate is the starting point of education for those who aspire to enter the field. If they wish to build their knowledge and skills further, paramedics and EMTs may decide to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Diploma or Certificate

The emergency medical technician certificate program equips students with the foundational skills needed to provide emergency medical care to patients en route to a hospital. Students learn basic life support procedures to help patients in various emergency situations, including those who are suffering from illness, have been the victim of violence, or have gotten into an accident. In order to deliver this critical care, students in paramedic schools are taught skills such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to open a patient’s airway.

The EMT certificate program typically takes one to two years to complete, and prepares students to pass the licensing examination in their state. Examples of common courses and skills gained are given below.

Fundamentals of Emergency Medical Technology

Provides an overview of basic life support techniques in an emergency care setting.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Stabilizing patient after an emergency or illness
  • Managing patient airways
  • Bandaging patients
  • Assessing what kind of care patients need
Introduction to the EMT Profession

Familiarizes students with how to work in the EMT care environment.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Documenting patient treatment
  • Understanding medical terminology
  • Communicating in a therapeutic environment
  • Managing a medical incident
EMT Assessment

Teaches aspiring EMTs how to assess the condition of a patient and make treatment decisions.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Getting a patient’s history
  • Making primary and secondary patient assessments
Airway Management

Introduces students to the procedures for opening and managing a patient’s airway.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Using devices related to airway management
  • Monitoring medical equipment
  • Understanding artificial ventilation devices

Associate Degrees

After earning an EMT certification, many students enroll in a paramedic associate degree program to advance their careers. Paramedics have more patient care responsibilities than EMTs, so the training received at this level is more comprehensive and advanced than a certificate. Building on students’ previous experience, this degree provides instruction on advanced emergency care techniques, including cardiac care, patient stabilization, and airway treatments. To help students deepen their understanding of emergency medical care, associate degree programs commonly offer the following courses:

Trauma Management

Covers the steps involved with treating trauma patients.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Making patient assessments
  • Understanding care for different kinds of trauma, such as spinal and soft-tissue trauma
  • Caring for burns
  • Implementing a treatment plan
Special Populations

Provides an understanding of how to treat patients requiring special or extra care.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Understanding pediatric emergencies
  • Assessing the needs of patients with psychiatric emergencies
  • Treating elderly patients
Emergency Pharmacology

Explains the use of medications during emergency care.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Understanding pharmacological terminology
  • Considering drug side effects when administering medications
  • Administering drugs commonly used in emergency care
Cardiology

Describes the treatment of cardiac emergencies.

Skills and Knowledge Gained:

  • Understanding cardiovascular emergencies
  • Making an assessment of a cardiac patients
  • Implementing a cardiac treatment plan

Bachelor’s Degrees

Paramedics who wish to advance their careers may elect to enroll in a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Bachelor’s degree graduates often procure jobs as healthcare administrators, paramedic training managers, or clinical supervisors. Some students use this degree as a springboard to go even further in their education, enrolling in physician assistant programs or medical school. Students can expect to gain a number of valuable skills throughout their degree, including:

Leadership

Students who aspire to supervisory roles in an emergency care setting learn how to manage the work of paramedics as they navigate their way through chaotic situations.

Advanced clinical knowledge

Students build on existing knowledge of emergency care, gaining a deeper understanding of how to effectively work in an emergency environment through planning and executing patient care strategies.

Administrative skills

Taking a managerial role in the field includes completing administrative tasks. Students learn various managerial functions, including budgeting, staffing, completing employee evaluations, and organizational planning.

Online Paramedic/EMT Training

Online paramedic schools are a convenient option for students who want to receive EMT training that can easily fit into their schedules. These programs allow students to combine online classes with in-person training, providing both theoretical and hands-on education. This is an attractive choice for many, but to get the most out of their education, students must find a school matched to their unique needs. Some characteristics to look for when choosing a school include:

Accreditation

Paramedics work with patients in high-pressure environments where their actions could mean the difference between life and death. They need specialized training from reputable institutions to ensure they get the best education and preparation to obtain their license. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) should accredit any school under consideration. This organization guarantees that online paramedic programs provide students with an education that adequately prepares them for the demands of the field.

Equipment

Students need to be trained on the latest techniques, and part of that includes being knowledgeable about equipment used by paramedics. When looking for a school, students should inquire about the varied types of equipment used during training and confirm that it is in good working order.

Faculty

The EMT field is extremely demanding, so students should look for schools that have faculty members with significant experience. Finding out how long teachers have worked as paramedics and whether or not they are still practicing can go a long way toward determining if a department offers qualified faculty.

Paramedic/EMT Jobs: FAQ

How long does it take to become a paramedic?

Earning a degree, completing required training, and taking the certification exam requires about 2-3 years.

How long does it take to become an EMT?

Most candidates need six months to two years to complete the training courses and pass the NREMT exam.

What other jobs can I do as a paramedic/EMT?

EMTs and paramedics can explore careers as police officers and firefighters. Hospitals also hire EMTs as emergency-room technicians.

Do paramedics get paid well?

According to the BLS, EMTs and paramedics earn a median annual salary of $34,320.

Is being an EMT dangerous?

EMTs and paramedics have one of the highest rates of on-the-job injury and illness of all occupations, according to the BLS. Following proper safety procedures can reduce this risk.

What's the fastest way to become an EMT?

To become an EMT quickly, candidates should complete CPR certification, take a six-month training course, and sit for the NREMT exam immediately after completing training.

Components of a Successful Career as a Paramedic/EMT

Paramedic Skills

This is a fast-paced career that demands workers have strong critical thinking skills to make snap decisions about how to treat patients. EMTs and paramedics must be excellent communicators: good listening helps them understand what each patient needs, while strong verbal skills allow them to communicate effectively with patients and other healthcare professionals.

Like other medical providers, paramedics and EMTs must show compassion when working with people in physical and emotional distress. Physical strength, stamina, and coordination are imperative for moving patients quickly and treating them with precision.

Paramedic Credentials

In addition to receiving a state license and NREMT certification, EMTs and paramedics who want to drive emergency vehicles must take a separate training course. Though this is not an exhaustive list, the following certifications are available to EMTs and paramedics:

  • Certified Healthcare Emergency Professional: International Board for Certification of Safety Managers
  • EMT Basic: National Registry of EMTs
  • EMT Intermediate: National Registry of EMTs
  • EMT Paramedic: National Registry of EMTs
  • First Responder: National Registry of EMTs
  • Certified Medical Interpreter: The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters
  • Critical Care Paramedics: Board for Critical Care Transport Paramedic Certification
  • Flight Paramedic Certification: Board for Critical Care Transport Paramedic Certification
  • Certified Hyperbaric Technologist: National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology

Tools and Technology for Paramedics

Paramedics and EMTs need several tools and technologies in order to treat patients. Some of the technologies they use include medical software like MedDataSolutions Regist*r, and information retrieval software—such as TechOnSoftware HazMatCE Pro, Epocrates software, and HyperTox.

In addition, some of the tools of this trade include airway suction units, portable oxygen equipment, cardboard splints, oxygen masks, laryngoscopes, and intravenous IV pressure infusers.

Similar Emergency Service Jobs

EMTs and paramedics can often work in other first-response environments, such as police and fire departments. EMTs and paramedics can also pursue healthcare positions, including roles as nurses, dental hygienists, and emergency management directors.

Each position requires additional training and education. Salary potential and job outlook vary by occupation.

Career Outlook Salary Education and Training
Firefighter 5% $49,620 High school diploma or the equivalent, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)-Basic certification
Police Officer 5% $63,380 High school education or GED, police academy training
Corrections Officer -7% $44,400 High school diploma or equivalent, American Correctional Association training
Registered Nurse 12% $71,730 Bachelor's degree, supervised clinical training
Physician Assistant 31% $108,610 Master’s degree, supervised clinical training
Dental Hygienist 11% $74,820 Associate degree, clinical training
Nurse Anesthetist 17% $167,950 Master’s degree, clinical training
Occupational Therapist 18% $84,270 Master’s degree, clinical training
Emergency Management Directors 5% $74,420 Bachelor's degree and work experience in emergency response

What Do Similar Careers Pay?

EMTs and paramedics dedicate their careers to helping individuals in distress. The table below highlights careers that offer involve working to keep communities safe.

Additional Resources

National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians

The NREMT is the national certifying organization for EMTs and paramedics. This nonprofit organization oversees and administers the EMT and paramedic exams.


National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians

NAEMT is a professional organization for emergency medical responders, including EMTs and paramedics. This organization provides continuing education, advocacy, and online resources.


National Association of State EMS Officials

This organization works with states to improve emergency medical systems. NASEMSO collaborates with EMTs and paramedics to create safer, more effective working environments.


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Office of Emergency Medical Services

The Office of EMS partners with the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies to strengthen emergency response systems across the nation.


Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs

CAAHEP is an accrediting agency for health science professions and programs. This organization sets and monitors training standards for EMT and paramedic courses.


Find a Paramedic/EMT School

With many programs available to aspiring EMTs and paramedics, prospective students should research their options carefully before choosing a school. This search tool can help you find schools based on specific criteria, such as state and degree level.

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