As baby boomers continue to age, the percent of the population requiring emergency medical attention grows each year. This puts the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who often respond in higher demand than ever before. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), EMT positions are expected to grow by 9 percent between 2008 and 2018. EMTs earned a median annual salary of $30,000 in 2009, but with the right training and experience, salaries among the top 10 percent exceed $51,460. Here's how to get started.
What Does an EMT Do?
When medical emergencies strike, EMTs are often the first to respond. Typically dispatched by 911 operators, EMTs work with firefighters and other first responders to provide emergency medical care to patients in need. Their primary goal is to stabilize patients and transport them to hospitals where physicians and surgeons can take over. This means EMTs must be trained to administer a number of medical interventions, from basic wound treatment to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
EMTs can work in a number of environments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45 percent of EMTs worked in ambulance services in 2008, 29 percent worked in local government, and another 20 percent worked in hospitals. Because medical emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere, expect to work long shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays.
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certifies five levels of EMTs, but only three certificate levels are common. These levels denote an EMT's level of training, and therefore guide the degree to which they're able to treat patients. The NREMT defines these primary levels as follows:
EMT-Basic is an entry-level EMT equipped to handle the most basic medical care. Working under the direction of more highly trained medical professionals, EMT-Basics primarily assess a patient's condition and provide respiratory or cardiac support when necessary.
EMT Intermediate have already earned their EMT-Basic certificates and have gone on to receive more advanced medical training. The range of new tasks for which this additional training qualifies intermediate EMTs varies by state.
Paramedic is the most highly trained EMT. Paramedics are qualified to administer medications, perform enotracheal intubations, perform electrocardiograms (EKGs), and more. Like EMT Intermediate-level EMTs, additional Paramedic duties vary by state.
What are the Steps to Becoming an EMT?
Because the proper training is imperative in the types of life-or-death situations to which emergency medical technicians respond, all states strictly regulate the training and certification of EMTs. Note that each level of EMT builds upon the previous one, so you must become certified as an EMT-Basic before advancing to EMT-Intermediate, and so on. The following steps can help guide you through this process.
- Verify your state's EMT licensure criteria. According to the BLS, most states use the official NREMT certification process for credentialing, but some have their own certificates. Research your state's requirements before investing your time (and training) unwisely.
- Ensure you meet additional eligibility criteria defined by the NREMT. Note that you must be 18 years of age and able to lift heavy loads.
- Enroll in an NREMT-approved EMT-Basic training course. According to the BLS, EMT-Basic coursework will emphasize emergency skills, including trauma and cardiac emergency response techniques and patient assessment. EMT-Basics are also trained to: control bleeding, deliver babies, place splints, move patients with neck or spinal injuries, and more.
- Apply for EMT-Basic certification through the NREMT, a process that requires you to pass another state-approved psychomotor exam specific to EMT-Basics. Also verify that you meet all other state requirements for licensure, such as passing any additional state-mandated tests.
- To advance to an EMT-Intermediate, you must receive 30 to 350 hours of additional training, depending on your state's requirements. Expect to master advanced skills, like the administration of IVs and some non-prescription medications. Be sure to apply for your NREMT EMT-Intermediate certification or other state-mandated certification upon completing your training.
- To advance to a Paramedic, you must enroll in a Paramedic training program through a local community college or career school. Courses teach more advanced medical skills in addition to basic anatomy and physiology, and often lead to two-year associate's degrees. Upon graduation, take the NREMT exam to become certified as a paramedic.
- Complete any ongoing continuing education or other state-mandated requirements to renew your EMT or Paramedic license, which must typically be done every 1 to 2 years.
How to Become a Great EMT
Because of the stressful nature of their work, great EMTs and paramedics are quick thinkers and emotionally stable. They have good manual dexterity, excellent coordination, and can carry and maneuver heavy patients. They are also detail oriented, especially when documenting vitals or administering medications.
Advancing your education is another way to become a great EMT. Advanced certifications offer the training you need to care for a broader scope of patients and, according to the BLS, should open up new, more lucrative job prospects. Pursue ongoing training or continuing education courses to maintain or sharpen your skills, whether voluntary or as a requirement for licensure.