How to Become an EMT: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an EMT. Explore the education and career requirements, training and licensure information and experience that can help you start a career as an emergency medical technician.

Should I Become an EMT?

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) provide care to injured and ill patients outside of medical facilities and hospitals. EMTs evaluate a person's health and provide appropriate medical care until the injured person can be taken to a hospital to receive treatment. This profession can be physically demanding, since EMTs must lift and move patients. EMTs also come into contact with contagious diseases on a regular basis, though following safety precautions will minimize their risk.

Career Requirements

Education High school diploma or GED
Experience Approximately 100 hours of training are needed for the EMT-Basic level, roughly 1,000 hours of training are needed for the EMT-Intermediate/Advanced level.
Licensure and Certification Certification exam; obtain a state-issued license; must be certified in CPR
Key Skills Strong communication skills, compassion, and interpersonal skills; good problem-solving and listening skills; ability to handle stress well and to think quickly; physical fitness
Salary (2014) $31,700 annually (median for all EMTs and paramedics)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Step 1: Complete an EMT-Basic Certificate Program

Many community colleges and healthcare institutions, including fire academies and hospitals, offer certificate programs. Typically 100 hours in length, this is the introductory level of training for emergency services personnel. Most programs require students to possess a high school diploma or its equivalent and be at least 18 years old. All initial training programs must meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation EMT-Basic National Standard Curriculum. These programs cover subjects such as trauma response, cardiac emergencies and respiratory assistance.

Success Tip:

  • Volunteer. Volunteering at a local hospital can help an aspiring EMT adjust to working in the medical field and can also help students practice working and communicating with patients. Additionally, volunteer experience may help an EMT stand out to potential employers.

Step 2: Pass the EMT-Basic Training Examination

After completing all required EMT-Basic training courses, graduates must then take an examination to earn certification. This exam is issued in two parts, a written test and a skills analysis. The written examination covers EMT procedures, while the skills assessment ensures that a candidate can physically perform EMT job duties. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) typically administers this final examination in coordination with state-certified organizations.

Step 3: Earn an EMT State License

All states require EMTs to become licensed after they are certified, but requirements for licensure vary. EMTs are required to renew licensure every few years by completing continuing education courses on EMT training. This ensures that an EMT is consistently well trained and can continue to be proficient by understanding advances in the field. Some areas of continuing education include child specialties, prepping patients, types of injuries and illness, and assessing patient conditions

Step 4: Obtain Work Experience

EMTs must demonstrate job dedication and the ability to handle stress effectively. Obtaining work experience in this field is not only important to the EMT, but to potential patients. By working alongside paramedics, fire fighters and police officers, EMTs acquire skills for working in dangerous situations and environments, such as fires and vehicular accidents. EMTs must learn to think and act quickly in response to each unique case, as situations vary greatly in terms of required emergency procedures. Work experience may lead to advanced professional credibility and promotions.

Step 5: Advance in the Field

EMTs interested in staying current with medical techniques may wish to complete additional training and certification courses. For example, an EMT-Basic may wish to progress to become an EMT-Intermediate or EMT-Paramedic. Each of these levels requires additional study and passing of relevant NREMT examinations. For example, the BLS states that 1,000 hours of training is typically required to advance to the EMT-Intermediate level. Completing advanced or continuing education programs can allow EMTs to become supervisors, instructors or physician assistants.

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