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EMS Worker: Job Duties and Requirements for Becoming an EMS Worker

Learn about the work responsibilities of an emergency medical services (EMS) worker. Explore training and licensing requirements as well as salary and employment outlook to decide if this is the right career choice.

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Career Definition

EMS workers typically are certified as first responders, basic or intermediate emergency medical technicians (EMTs), or paramedics. Others work as educators or administrative personnel who coordinate emergency responses. An EMS worker's duties vary depending on his or her level of certification but usually include performing basic physical exams, assessing patients' trauma levels, and administering oxygen. More advanced EMS workers insert IVs, intubate victims, and use cardiac monitors and manual defibrillators. EMS workers also may help create disaster preparedness plans.

How to Become an EMS Worker

Education Requirements

Most training programs for EMS workers last six months to two years and award a certificate upon completion. Some prospective EMS workers may choose to pursue an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree in a field such as EMS management. Courses typically include EMS administration, disaster management, paramedic skills, pharmacology, and emergency care.

Certification Requirements

All EMS workers must earn state certification, and many states also require registration with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians ( EMS workers must continue their education to maintain certification.

Required Skills

EMS workers must be able to cope with a high-stress job that can be fast-paced and emotionally and physically demanding. They often are on their feet all day and may need to lift patients and heavy equipment. EMS workers need strong communication skills to teach new workers about procedures and the willingness to take direction from superiors.

Economic Outlook

The median salary for EMS workers was $31,020 in May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, The BLS predicted that employment of EMTs and paramedics would grow by 23% between 2012 and 2022. An aging population and the development of more specialized medical practices will positively influence the rate of growth within the field of EMS. Additionally, consulting opportunities may become more available in the coming years.

Alternative Career Options

Registered Nurse

If saving lives in a hospital setting sounds more appealing, a career in nursing may be a good option. Registered nurses assist doctors in diagnosing illness and injuries, running tests and administering treatments. They also monitor patients, add information to patient records, operate medical equipment, and answer patient questions about health care. To enter the field, nurses are required to either complete a diploma program at a technical school or earn an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing. Registered nurses must also obtain state licensure by passing the registered nursing National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Based on predictions from the BLS, registered nurses should experience a 19% increase in job opportunities between 2012 and 2022. These nursing professionals earned a median wage of $65,470, as reported by the BLS in 2012.


Performing some similar duties as an EMS worker, firefighters also respond to emergencies and administer medical treatment to stabilize patients at the scene. Additionally, firefighters rescue people in dangerous situations, put out fires using specially designed equipment and vehicles, educate the public about fire safety issues, and complete detailed reports about the work they do. Employment requirements include earning EMT-Basic certification and completing a training program at a fire academy. EMT-Paramedic certification may also be required by some fire departments. In May of 2012, the BLS estimated that the median salary of firefighters was $45,250. They also projected that over 20,000 new positions would open in this field during the 2012-2022 decade, an increase of 7%.

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