What is an Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree?
An associate degree in emergency medical services is designed to teach students to respond quickly, efficiently, and calmly to emergency scenarios where medical intervention is key to ensuring the safety and survival of those involved. While earning their degree, students typically complete general education requirements as well as emergency medical technician (EMT) coursework and extensive paramedic training. Upon completion, students should be prepared to take on work in any emergency medical services field. Programs may award either Associate of Applied Science (AAS) or Associate of Science (AS) degrees. An AS or AAS degree in emergency medical services typically takes about two years to complete and can assist those already working in the field to qualify for management or teaching positions.
Why Should I Get an Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree?
Many emergency medical services associate programs are excellent for career starters because they provide training for both EMT and paramedic certificates. Most programs have distinct training sequences that qualify students to obtain certificates in their state as they work toward their two-year degree, so professionally minded students can begin work as EMTs while they achieve their educational goals or choose to take some time between certificates before completing their degree.
An emergency medical services associate degree can also be an excellent choice for EMTs or paramedics who want to position themselves for promotions in their chosen field by ensuring that they meet the educational standards of advanced management roles or for work as teachers. Some programs offer credit for certificates previously earned by students from accredited programs, so paramedics or EMTs who already hold certificates can complete their degree more quickly and begin earning more as degree-holding medical professionals.
How to Choose an Emergency Medical Services Associate Program
One of the first considerations that students should make when determining what program is the best for them is its cost. Most schools offer a variety of ways for students to estimate the cost of the program, such as program calculators or on-site estimates. However, students should be careful to analyze any potential unlisted costs that are part of medical preparatory programs, like the price of uniforms, stethoscopes, equipment and books, lab fees, exam fees for certificates, and the amount of travel to and from their school, plus any clinical hours they may undertake during training.
Students should also consider the program outcomes for most students when they are researching potential programs. One key factor that can indicate the success of a program is the pass rate of its students for EMT or paramedic certification exams. Interested students should seek detailed program outcome information on the program's website or through contacting the department.
Application and Admissions for Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree Programs
EMS students will complete their education in stages and must begin at the first tier of emergency response training to apply for later sequences, except in circumstances where students have previously earned credit or hold some level of certification. At the first tier of training, commonly considered the EMT or EMR stages, students applying should be prepared to provide any college transcripts, complete an application, and pay all application fees.
For most programs, students must be at least 18, hold a high school diploma or GED, be CPR certified and college ready. Students should expect to take a health screening and submit proof of immunizations as well as a criminal background check and a drug screening. Some programs may also require students to verify their ability to lift at least 125 pounds and have health insurance before performing clinical hours.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree?
Most programs are between 60-73 credit hours and can usually be completed in two years with a full-time course load. In a general sense, students will spend one semester on EMT training and earn their EMT certificate before they move on to the paramedic portion of the program. Paramedic training typically takes three consecutive semesters. Students must also complete around 20 hours of general education coursework, including English, social sciences and math or life sciences, before they are ready to graduate.
How Much Does an Associate Degree in Emergency Medical Services Cost?
Earning an associate degree in EMS usually costs between $7,300 and $11,200 but this will vary based on the program. Some schools may include the additional costs of equipment, uniforms and lab fees that are part of any medical program, but others may not, so students should be careful to ensure that they are fully aware of any added expenses that they may be responsible for outside of tuition. Students should also be aware of the fees for any certification exams that they will need to take to progress in their degree. Exams will typically be administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), though in some instances, state-specific certification exams may be available.
Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree Coursework
An associate degree offers students a broad educational background in general subjects of a two-year degree while also providing targeted, career-specific medical emergency training necessary to respond to crises as they develop. Students will complete clinical hours in the practical, hands-on learning experiences of ambulances and emergency care centers through clinical hours or internships and become familiar with medical terminology, equipment and patient assessment in the fast-paced environment of emergency response.
Common coursework includes:
- General education courses in English and communication, social sciences, math and biological sciences.
- Anatomy & Physiology courses
- EMT Training
- Paramedic Training
- Lab & Clinical Hours
How Much Can I Earn With an Associate Degree in Emergency Medical Services?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2020, the average wage for an EMT or paramedic was $40,370. Paramedics or EMTs working with the state government outside of hospitals and schools made significantly more than the average for all paramedics or EMTs at an average annual wage of $58,730, a difference of $18,360. Paramedics or EMTs working in the top three highest-earning industries (including state government, as emergency care in companies or enterprises, and engineering services including laboratory work) earned between $50,090 and $58,730 on average.
While working in a top-paying industry can increase earnings, the differences in potential salary vary more by the state than by the industry. The highest paying states for EMTs were Hawaii, Washington and Maryland, where EMTs and paramedics made an average of $58,580, $56,910, and $53,440, respectively. In these top-earning states, average hourly wages ranged from $25.69 to $28.16 compared to the national average hourly rate of $19.41.
Begin a Career as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
As students work toward their degree completion, they should learn the skills needed to become emergency medical technicians, sometimes called emergency medical technologists or emergency care attendants. EMTs represent the first tier of emergency care response in most instances, though some states may also employ EMRs, or Emergency Care Responders. As a first responder, EMTs will need to provide compassionate, competent and immediate patient assessment to develop an effective plan of action for patient care.
Aspiring EMTs must complete an accredited EMT training program, pass a certification exam to be licensed, and meet the requirements for being licensed in their state. Generally, these requirements include a background check and drug screening, which students will first have to complete to be admitted to an EMT program. Associate-level EMS students will satisfy the required coursework as part of their degree, but it can be taken as a stand-alone program as well. Usually, EMT training can be completed in one semester.
The BLS predicts that the number of jobs in the EMT field will increase by 6% between 2019 and 2029.
Begin a Career as a Paramedic
Paramedics represent the most advanced level of emergency care. Usually, paramedic training can be completed in one to two years and will include substantial lab work and in-person clinical hours working alongside medical response teams in ambulatory care or emergency rooms to best prepare students for the immediacy of urgent medical treatment.
Prospective paramedics must first satisfy the requirements to be licensed as an EMT before pursuing an accredited paramedic program. After earning EMT certification and an EMT license in their state, future paramedics will complete a paramedic certification training program and pass the NREMT paramedic certification exam to become licensed as a paramedic in their state.
Paramedics will have to recertify every two years and can choose to complete 60 hours of continued education or pass a recertification exam. Paramedics who opt for 60 continuing education hours will complete 30 hours of nationally mandated training, 15 hours of state-mandated education, and 15 hours of the paramedic's choice from among accredited coursework.
Certifications & Licensure for Paramedics
Paramedics must be licensed in their state to work. The licensure process varies according to each state. However, in almost all instances, completing an accredited EMS program and taking the corresponding NREMT paramedic exam is necessary to qualify for a state paramedic license. The NREMT was established in 1970 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to create a comprehensive and universal standard for EMS training. As of today, NREMT currently certifies over 400,000 EMS professionals through their 4 level-appropriate exams. Forty-six states use completion of the NREMT certification exam as a basis for issuing licenses and 21 states mandate that paramedics be NREMT certified to apply for a paramedic license under the EMS compact. Future paramedics can visit the website to learn more about the state-specific requirements for licensure.
Accreditation for Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree Programs
The largest accrediting body for EMS programs is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Working in collaboration with the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Services Professions (CoAEMSP), CAAHEP accredits both institutions and programs. Programmatic accreditation assures students that the highest standards for EMS education are applied to their specific program while institutional accreditation holds the school to CAAHEP standards.
Students can use the CAAHEP accredited program database to find an accredited program by state. Pull-down options can also help students find newly accredited programs or programs that have had their accreditation withdrawn or expire.
Transfer Options After Completing an Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree
Students who intend to continue their education in emergency medical services beyond the associate level may be interested in the transfer options their program has for other degrees. Students pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BS) can choose to pursue EMS degrees but should be aware that there are relatively few bachelor's-level programs explicitly in emergency medical services. However, there are many options for health-oriented BS degrees, including emergency health sciences, paramedicine, health sciences and programs offering concentrations in paramedics.
Students should first determine if their school has bachelor's level programs related to their EMS associate degree. Transferring to a bachelor's level program from an associate degree within the same institution will ensure that all credits are transferred at an equivalent rate. Students can also research articulation agreements that their community colleges have with state universities. Many state universities have transfer agreements between programs so that associate-level work transfers to the first two years of bachelor's programs. Students who have completed their degrees with accredited programs should have several options for transferring to four-year closely related health programs but should make certain that they have satisfied degree requirements up to the sophomore level to guarantee a smooth transfer.
What Are Other Emergency Medical Services Degree Options?
Emergency medical services encapsulate all immediate medical care provided by first responders before hospitalization. Generally, EMS careers are guided by certification. EMS students might look for certification at the EMR, EMT or paramedic levels. While certifications proliferate in the EMS field, there are fewer traditional degree options than in other areas of study. Interested students usually complete EMS coursework at the two- or four-year level and may choose to pursue related degrees or coursework such as certified emergency nursing courses or degrees in health sciences past the four-year level.
Bachelor's Degrees in Emergency Medical Services
Bachelor's degrees are typically the highest-level degrees awarded in the field of emergency medical services. Bachelor's programs are usually completed in four years, though many programs have transfer options that allow those already holding an EMS associate degree to transfer in at the sophomore level or in advanced placement. Bachelor's programs will specialize and broaden the training acquired through two-year EMS degrees and may be useful for those seeking promotion in their field or who intend to teach.
Master's Degrees in Emergency Medical Services
Individuals seeking graduate degrees in emergency medical services or health sciences may pursue Master of Science in Health Science (MSHS) or Master of Science (MS) degrees. These degrees are typically oriented toward leadership and management, but concentrations in education, emergency or disaster management are other options. Graduate degrees are geared toward working EMS professionals and typically take two years to complete. Those seeking a graduate degree must have completed a bachelor's degree to apply or may apply to dual bachelor's/master's programs.
Doctoral Degrees in Emergency Medical Services
Students interested in pursuing doctoral degrees related to emergency medical services or emergency management may decide to earn a Doctor of Science (DS) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). At this level, students will be prepared to take the highest positions in management or may intend to pursue research in emergency medical services. Doctoral programs typically require dissertations before completion. Potential students should expect to provide Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, official college transcripts, letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose when applying.
Certificate Programs in Emergency Medical Services
Students typically earn certificates as they complete an associate degree in emergency medical services but may choose to complete a certificate program on its own and end their education after earning a certificate. Certificates at the EMT level typically take one semester to complete and are often completed as summer programs. Paramedic certificates usually take one to two years to complete. EMS certificate programs generally prepare students for certification exams by the NREMT to earn a license as an EMT or paramedic.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Emergency Medical Services Degrees
Professional organizations are some of the best sources for paramedic or EMT training program scholarships. One example of a professional organization with associated scholarships for its members is the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT). NAEMT offers annual scholarships at three different levels of EMS education to members. At the first responder or EMR level, NAEMT offers four $500 scholarships. At the EMT to paramedic level, NAEMT awards three scholarships for $5,000 and at the highest level, paramedic education, four $2,000 scholarships are awarded. Interested students must be active members of NAEMT, submit an application and a letter explaining their educational goals. Scholarship funds are awarded directly to the school for the following academic year.
In all cases, students looking for financial aid should begin their search by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with their school's code and contact their school's financial aid department for school or program-specific information.