Becoming an emergency medical technician or EMT or paramedic is a good choice of career for someone who wants to enter the healthcare profession relatively quickly and earn a good salary.
An EMT cares for the sick and injured in many types of emergency medical settings, such as in an ambulance. Many lives are usually on the line and depend upon rapid actions and decisions made by EMTs and paramedics. Those first responder health care workers must respond quickly to emergency calls and perform competent medical services and deliver ill and injured patients to hospitals and medical facilities.
EMT and paramedic duties include these:
- Respond immediately to 911 calls for medical help. Most common emergencies are cardiopulmonary assistance and helping with car accidents
- Assess the condition of the patient and determine the best way to treat him or her
- Get the patient safely to the hospital in an ambulance
- Get patients to the emergency department of the health care center or hospital
- Carefully document all care that was given to the patient
The EMT is a critical part of the health care treatment team because they are usually the first one to provide initial treatment and to stabilize the patient.
EMTs also must often transport patients to different medical facilities for them to receive various treatments. An EMT could be required to help move a patient to a specialty hospital where he or she can receive a specific type of medical care.
Why Become an EMT?
Many people want to enter the EMT and paramedic field because they want to work in health care, and becoming an EMT takes only a year or two of training. In addition, many of these workers like the fast pace of EMT work, and prefer an occupation that is not in an office or medical care facility most of the time.
People also choose the EMT career path because job growth is anticipated to be strong in the coming years, with 24% job growth expected by 2024. This is much faster than average. Experts believe that there will be more need for competent EMTs as our population gets older and is going to need more emergency medical care for various health problems that come with aging.
With the increased demand in the EMT field, pay also is rising, with the median wage being $32,000 per year. The top 10% with the most years of experience earn $55,000 per year. If you want to earn the highest possible salary, it is recommended to work for a state, local or private hospital, where the median salary for starting EMTs is $34,800.
Steps to Become a Certified EMT
Below are the detailed requirements for becoming an EMT according to the NREMT website:
- You have to be at least 18 years old.
- You must successfully complete a state-approved EMT program that meets the standards of the NEMT education standards for EMTs.
- You must have passed the program within the last two years and your program director has to verify that you completed the program successfully.
- If your EMT program was completed more than two years ago, you must show that you have taken an approved EMT refresher course, or have taken 24 hours of continuing education in the last 24 months.
- If you are not licensed as an EMT, or if it has been more than two years since you have taken such classes, you must complete a new EMT program.
- Possess a current CPR-BLS (basic life support) for a healthcare provider
- Successfully complete the EMT psychomotor exam, and successfully complete the EMT cognitive exam.
Sections on the EMT National Examination
The NREMT EMT examination consists of two parts:
- Cognitive exam
- Psychomotor exam
The cognitive exam is taken on a computer and the number of questions can range from 7-120, depending upon how well you are doing on the test, which is a form of computer adaptive test.
Subject areas that are covered on the cognitive exam are:
- Airway, respiration and ventilation
- Cardiology and resuscitation
- Obstetrics and gynecology
- EMS operations
Eight-five percent of the questions on the cognitive examination are related to adults and elderly patients, and the rest is on pediatric patients.
On the psychomotor examination, you will need to demonstrate that you are competent in all of the basic emergency care skills that you will need every day on the job. You will need to show on the psychomotor examination that you are skilled in some or most of these areas:
- Patient assessment
- Managing a medical patient
- Cardiac arrest management
- Bag/valve/mask of an apneic patient
- Spinal immobilization of a patient
- Lone bone fracture care
- Joint dislocation
- Bleeding control and shock management
- Upper airway adjuncts/suction
- Mouth to mouth with supplemental oxygen
Earning Your EMT Degree and Certification
Most EMTs earn their certification at a local vocational or community college in their city. Most EMT programs are associate’s degree programs that can be completed in approximately two years.
It depends upon where you earn your associate’s degree, but you should expect to be taking these types of classes:
- General psychology
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Advanced medical practices
- Trauma management
- EMS operations
- Emergency pharmacology
- Medical emergencies
- Special populations
- Assessment based management
After you have completed your degree program, you will need to be certified by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians or NREMT. This requires you to complete a written and practical examination.
How and Where to Seek Your EMT Training
As noted above, you will need to attend an associate’s degree or certificate program at a community college or vocational school in your state to get the training to become an EMT.
For example, North Seattle College in Washington state offers a EMT certificate. It will teach you all of the responsibilities and roles of an EMT according to state requirements in Washington. Students in this two year program will develop their EMT skills in evaluating patients and also will learn how to handle many other emergency procedures and situations.
After you complete the program, you are eligible to take your National Registry Exam that is administered by the NREMT. Common skills that you will learn in this and most EMT programs are:
- Develop vital life saving skills and understand the roles and responsibilities of the EMT in the performance of emergency medicine.
- Develop important skills in evaluating patients and gain an understanding of all emergency treatment procedures, except those which must be performed by a doctor.
- Meet the minimum health education standards of the state and county.
- Develop expert level of skill in using all equipment and instruments needed by an EMT, including all of the major equipment in an ambulance.
- Show strong knowledge of physiology, anatomy, pathophysiology and emergency injury and illness medicine
Other major areas of study in these associate’s degree programs include:
- Automatic external defibrillation
- Physical assessment
- Bandaging and splinting
- Spinal immobilization
- Airway management
- Oxygen therapy
While most of the education to become an EMT must be experienced on a campus at a community college or vocational school, there are some online options available for learning EMT skills. This online program in EMT certification covers all of the EMT knowledge and skill requirements that you must know to pass the practical and cognitive national examination that is offered by NREMT.
Also, some four year universities in the US offer hybrid online and campus programs where you can become an EMT. One of these is offered by the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care. There are 10 weekly, live online class sessions at night, and eight on site skills instruction classes. This program can be completed in six months.
Choosing to become an EMT is a fantastic entryway to an exciting and fulfilling career in health care. Many former EMTs go on to earn their bachelor’s degree in nursing and even a master’s degree in nursing or in a related healthcare field. Being an EMT exposes you to many possible career paths in clinical medicine, and is ideal for those who want to enjoy a healthcare career for decades to come.