Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) don't spend all their time waiting to respond to accidents and disasters. Many EMTs follow schedules that include coordinating patient transportation for routine medical appointments and non-critical surgeries. Working in ambulances or on mobile field units, EMTs use their skills to manage pain and to triage injury until a patient can see a doctor. Depending on state regulations for emergency services, advanced EMTs and paramedics can take extreme action to save a passenger's life, using defibrillators and tracheotomy tools.
EMT careers attract citizens who want to play bigger roles in their communities, as well as professionals from other fields who wish to shift into healthcare-related careers. Emergency medical technicians have the chance to save lives and help those in need. As first responders, EMTs may face danger on the job in the form of accidents or potential exposure to disease. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also notes that the work can be physically challenging, particularly during patient transportation. More than a third of professionals work overtime and schedules also span weekends and night shifts (bls.gov/ooh).
How to Become an Emergency Medical Technician
Education cannot guarantee employment, but the following steps can help aspiring EMTs prepare to enter the field:
- Earn a high school diploma or its equivalent, to comply with most state licensing regulations.
- Identify requirements for a particular program, for example, a minimum age of 18 in some cases.
- Pass a training course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and earn CPR certification, a prerequisite for many EMT training programs.
- Meet school requirements, which could include a physical examination, immunizations, proof of health insurance and a background check.
- Complete EMT training at a school or facility that meets state licensing guidelines and follows National Emergency Medical Services Education Standards.
- Obtain professional certification and state licensing.
Optionally, students can enroll in broader degree programs that include emergency management or public health, and apply for EMT certification as soon as they have completed the hands-on portion of their EMT training. Some healthcare students may take part-time EMT shifts while earning college degrees.
Post-Education Requirements: Required Certifications and/or State Licensing
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians administers a certification exam and maintains a private database of certified EMTs. The NREMT certification exam includes both a cognitive section and a state-approved psychomotor exam.
Many states use the basic EMT certification as a prerequisite for licensure, while some states impose their own exams. Employers must check a job applicant's status with their state licensing body before filling open EMT jobs. Professionals who allow certifications to lapse typically complete a state-approved refresher course before taking new exams.
The NREMT oversees certifications designed to accommodate the long-term career prospects of experienced EMTs. Specific duties may vary according to state regulations, but different levels of professionals seek skills such as these:
- Basic EMT: This entry-level role focuses on patient safety and security during transport, with basic first aid and emergency triage skills.
- Intermediate EMT: Additional training can show EMTs how to assist patients who can't breathe, suffer from allergic reactions or have experienced trauma.
- Advanced EMT: The most experienced, skilled EMTs can immobilize a patient suffering a neck or spine injury, perform a blood transfusion and administer emergency medicine.
The NREMT also certifies other roles such as these:
- Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs) can operate defibrillators, stabilize spinal injury patients and administer life-saving medications.
- Paramedics can make direct medical interventions despite the absence of a doctor, using approved devices for intubation and gastric decompression.
Job Growth and Average Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of EMTs and paramedics could grow much faster than the national average, with a growth rate of up to 33 percent between 2010 and 2020. An aging American public and an increase in specialized medical facilities are likely to create more demand for routine medical transport. (bls.gov/ooh)
EMTs and paramedics earned a median annual wage of $31,020 nationally in May 2012, with the top 10 percent earning more than $53,550 and the lowest 10 percent making less than $20,180. EMT salary can vary according to factors such as location, experience and education. In 2012, the mean EMT salary reached $50,000 or more in top-paying states such as the District of Columbia, Alaska and Washington. Local government paid higher wages than hospitals, which offered higher pay than other ambulatory healthcare services. (bls.gov/oes)
List of Related Careers
EMTs may use their time in the field to cultivate long-term careers in public health, emergency management and civil administration. With the required training and experience, EMTs can also pursue related careers like these:
- Private Ambulance Service Manager: Supervisors schedule shifts and equipment for coverage of routine medical appointments and scheduled surgeries, while coordinating transportation between patients' homes and healthcare facilities.
- Physician Assistant: PAs provide care directly to patients under the supervision of a doctor. These professionals could build on first aid and patient assessment skills honed during EMT shifts.
- Registered Nurse: RNs oversee a wide range of patient care activities and communicate with patients and their families regarding treatment. RNs could potentially leverage EMT experience in high-pressure environments like emergency rooms and disaster relief operations.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information about emergency medical technician careers:
Emergency Medical Services, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012, Bureau of Labor Statistics
EMTs and Paramedics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
What is EMS?, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, 2013