Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Paramedics are often the first people to provide care to the injured or ill during medical emergencies. They rely on quick reaction time and the ability to work under pressure to help save lives. EMTs respond to emergency calls via ambulance and provide critical care while transporting patients to nearby medical facilities.
Though EMTs and paramedics work for specific companies, they respond to calls issued through the 911 service. 911 operators contact EMTs and paramedics for medical assistance during emergencies, such as car accidents, and direct them to the location of those requiring treatment. Besides caring for patients, EMTs and paramedics also drive ambulances to get patients to appropriate medical facilities.
While they perform similar job duties, EMTs and paramedics generally have different skill levels. Paramedics can administer more extensive care than their EMT counterparts. While both as equipped to handle emergency care such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and trauma care, paramedics can give medications, interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs), and use other more advanced equipment and diagnostic techniques. The precise differences between what can be managed by an EMT or paramedic vary by state.
Commonly, prospective students for EMT and Paramedic training programs must possess a high school diploma or its equivalent. This ensures all students possess the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the duties associated with the job, as well as understand the course material pertinent to their studies. Additionally, some schools require applicants to possess a current CPR certification while others include the CPR instruction within the classes contained within the program. Minimum age requirements may also be set depending on applicable state laws and regulations.
Based on the nature of the work, it may be easier to complete the secondary educational requirements if you focus on key disciplines during high school. Consider adding extra classes in the areas of science and mathematics. Biology, anatomy, physiology, and chemistry can all be of use. You may also find learning a second language beneficial, especially if there is a high population in your area comprised of non-native English speakers. In some cases, bilingual EMTs and paramedics can receive higher salaries based on their ability to both perform their job and speak to those who do not speak English fluently.
Working as an EMT or paramedic also requires various skills that are not traditionally taught in schools. Customer service and communication skills are vital when working with patients. A calm demeanor is also critical, especially when dealing with people who have recently experienced trauma. Physically, the job can be quite demanding. Heavy lifting may be required to help move patients when necessary, as well as when moving equipment throughout the scene of an accident. Manual dexterity is also beneficial, as well as strong hand-eye coordination. Since driving an ambulance is required in most cases, the ability to operate a vehicle is a necessity. This means you need a current driver’s license and likely a clean driving record.
Before beginning your certificate program, you must obtain a high school diploma or GED. You may be eligible to apply to the program before your official high school graduation, but your admission may remain contingent on successfully meeting the requirement. Your class schedule options may vary depending on the school you choose to attend. While most educational institutions offer traditional daytime classes, some also offer night and weekend options. This can make obtaining your education easier if you also have to manage other obligations during the day. Depending on your selected program, you may be able to receive your certificate in as few as 12 weeks. However, some programs are designed to be completed over the course of one or two years. The length of time required will also vary based on whether you are looking to become an EMT or paramedic. EMT training is generally shorter, but paramedic training provides the ability to perform more tasks while on the job.
Each school may also have differing financial aid options available. Colleges that are equipped to receive federal financial aid will need each incoming student to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for funds, such as Pell Grant awards or federal student loans. Others educational institutions may offer institutional scholarships that are only available to students attending courses at their campuses.
For those who need money beyond standard financial aid options, or for schools that are not prepared to work with those funds, you can also explore options like private student loans. Some colleges offer students payment plans, and all schools can receive cash for courses you plan to attend. The deadline for payment is set by the institution, so contact their financial aid office directly to explore your options. Schools may have different standards in regards to expected attendance and your final grades. Some educational institutions have requirements that dictate a maximum number of absences before you will be automatically dropped from the course, or receive an automatic failing grade, while others focus solely on the quality of your assignments and test scores. It is important to review all attendance policies before your classes begin.
After your application has been accepted, and your initial class schedule has been determined, you will be ready to start taking classes. Coursework focuses on the unique skills and abilities needed to successful work as an EMT or paramedic, though some general education requirements may also be included. Due to the hands-on nature of the work, classes are typically held in traditional classroom or lab environments within the school. Traditionally, certificate programs focus only on courses that specifically apply to the career you are pursuing. For example, biology, anatomy, and physiology are standard requirements. You will also receive training regarding the EMT and paramedic skills required to assist during health-related emergencies. You will also be introduced to medical terminology and will likely need to complete introductory courses related to math and English. Additional classes cover issues of communication and human relations. This is to help students gain an understanding of how to work with patients in the field, especially during traumatic events. To help students apply their education to real-world events, some programs require an externship be completed before completion of the program.
All EMTs and paramedics must be duly certified to work in their state. While many states rely on the certifications provided through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), each state may have additional requirements that must also be met. Most EMTs and paramedics pursue a certification through the NREMT at the level appropriate for their level of educational and experience. To qualify for the examination, applicants must complete an approved training course through a recognized educational institution. Additionally, test-takers must be a minimum of 18 years of age and possess a valid CPR-BLS for healthcare providers or an equivalent certification.
The examination focuses on two key areas: cognitive and psychomotor. The cognitive portion concentrates on the knowledge you acquired while attending your courses. Most of the tests are administered via computer and have a time limit in which the test can be completed. Questions cover topics including, but not limited to, CPR, trauma, and adult and pediatric patient care. To become certified, a minimum score must be obtained. The psychomotor portion of the exam is administered at the state level. This is designed to assert that you have the practical skills and abilities required to perform necessary job duties. Required skills include, but are not limited to, fracture immobilization, splinting, the use of supplemental oxygen, and bleeding control. A passing score is required to be certified.
Maintaining Your Certification
Your initial EMT or paramedic certification is designed to last approximately two years, depending on when your original certification was received. Subsequent renewals will be required every two years after your first recertification is complete.
Before applying for recertification, certain continuing educational requirements must be met. This ensures that those working as EMTs or paramedics are current regarding the latest techniques as well as any applicable laws and regulations. Since the standards for medical treatment can change over time, reinforcing your previous education is a requirement.
Guidelines for completing your continuing education are set at the national level by NREMT. Additional state requirements must also be fulfilled and will vary depending on the state in which you work. An individual component allows you to take courses that you can choose personally, but they must be chosen from a select list. If a recertification request is not provided, or the continuing educational requirements are not met within the timeframe allotted, your certification will be revoked. However, you can request reinstatement if your educational requirements were met, and only your application for recertification was late. Otherwise, your certification will be considered lapsed. A lapsed certification requires additional classwork. You will also have to retake the cognitive and psychomotor examinations, obtaining a passing score on each before your certification will be reinstated.
The healthcare field is rapidly expanding. As such, the need for certified EMTs and paramedics is expected to grow at a pace exceeding the national average. It is estimated that the demand for personnel to work in this field will rise by 24 percent between 2014 and 2024. That means there should be a variety of opportunities for those who choose to work in the field.
Working as an EMT or Paramedic
Working as an EMT or paramedic is considered a high-stress occupation as some of the activities are comprised of life-or-death decisions. However, there may be significant downtime between emergencies, depending on the area in which you work. This can make the job a bit of a rollercoaster ride between calm periods and responding to crisis events. You may spend time working both indoors and outdoors and can be exposed to all kinds of weather. Those working for ambulance services will likely spend most of their time in the ambulance aside from when they are assisting patients at the scene of a crisis.
The job is highly physical, as you may have to physically manipulate patients, equipment, or even debris. Additionally, you may encounter agitated patients who may act combatively depending on the situation at hand. Due to the nature of the work, the risk of personal injury is relatively high. You may also be exposed to a variety of illnesses, which may increase your odds of becoming sick. While the majority of EMTs and paramedics work for ambulance services, you can also find employment in other areas. For example, firefighters may also be trained EMTs or paramedics. Others may work with various local government organizations as well as area hospitals.
EMTs and paramedics working for ambulance services may be issued uniforms by the company. This helps other emergency personnel and first responders to differentiate one another from a larger crowd and also provides an air of authority. Others working in the field may have the option to wear traditional medical scrubs. Suitable footwear is required in all positions. Often, this means close-toed shoes, though additional criteria may be set by your employer. Safety equipment, such as medical gloves, as also required, though generally provided by the employer.
The majority of EMTs and paramedics are employed full-time. In some cases, work hours can include considerable overtime. Work hours can vary and may include days, nights, weekends, holidays, or a combination. Some also work extended shifts, sometimes lasting for 12 or 24 hours straight. Additionally, a scheduled time off cannot be guaranteed. If you are currently treating a patient, you will be required to stay on the clock until the work is complete. Depending on your employer, you work hours may be set to a particular, repeating schedule. Other organizations choose to use rotating schedules to try and create a fair work environment in regards to having certain days or times off.
Salary and Benefits
For 2015, the median annual salary for EMTs and paramedics was $31,980. However, the top 10 percent earned annual wages over $55,000. Pay rates are generally based on experience, as well as the amount of education you have received and the types of certifications held by the employee. For example, paramedics often earn more than advanced EMTs, and advanced EMTs make more than basic EMTs.
As with most full-time employment opportunities, the availability of benefits is standard. This can include traditional offerings, such as medical, dental, and vision insurance, retirement benefits, and paid time off. Some employers may offer educational incentives to offset the costs of continuing education or for the pursuit of a more advanced certification.
Beginning as a basic EMT provides a foundation to help you pursue more advanced certifications, such as an advanced EMT or paramedic certification. It can also lead to an interest in other medical careers. Some EMTs and paramedics decide to pursue additional education to enter fields such as nursing or advanced medical professions. For those interest in a career in medicine, but are not sure which specific area to pursue, becoming an EMT can provide valuable insight into how the emergency medical field operates.