Emergency medical services programs are available at three progressive levels: EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate and Paramedic. All 50 states require individuals interested in entering the field of emergency medical services to complete an accredited training program and to pass both state and national certification exams. Students in these programs might explore areas such as airway management, trauma, patient assessment, pharmacology and respiratory emergencies. Classroom hours, laboratory simulations and internships are required. Continuing education is necessary to maintain professional certifications.
Diploma programs at the EMT-Basic level equip students with the necessary skills to provide emergency medical services at the basic life support level. Through classroom lecture, applied practice and clinical experiences, students learn to assess patient conditions, administer appropriate medical care and safely transport patients to a medical facility. Completion of EMT-Basic training prepares students to sit for the national EMT-Basic certification exam administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT).
Applicants are required to have a high school diploma, or educational equivalent, and hold a current CPR certification card. Most programs also require potential students to submit a health clearance from a physician in addition to providing proof of health insurance.
EMT-Basic courses require a minimum of 120 classroom hours and 16-20 internship hours in both a hospital setting and onboard an ambulance. Topics covered include:
- Patient lifting and moving
- Airway management
- Patient assessment
- Emergency care for infants and children
- Medical emergencies
Technical diploma programs at the EMT-Intermediate level include coursework that builds upon the skills acquired during an EMT-Basic program and provides training in advanced life support interventions, airway techniques and patient assessment. Students also learn to administer intravenous fluids, drugs used in diabetic emergencies and medication for shock symptoms. Upon completion of technical diploma programs, students are eligible to take the national EMT-Intermediate certification exam administered by the NREMT.
Applicants must be licensed at the EMT-Basic level and be at least 18 years of age. Some programs require candidates to have been an active EMT-Basic for one year prior to applying. Potential students must submit vaccination records as well as a physical examination report from a physician.
The EMT-Intermediate program combines a minimum of 200 hours of classroom lectures, laboratory simulations and practical skill labs with approximately 200 hours of clinical experiences. Topics covered typically include:
- Emergency pharmacology
- Clinical decision making
- Allergic reactions
- Respiratory emergencies
- Airway management and ventilation
Emergency Medical Services Associate Degree (EMT-Paramedic)
Paramedic training is the most advanced level of training in the field of emergency medical services. Usually resulting in an associate degree, paramedic training requires a number of general education requirements in addition to coursework in advanced emergency medical services, including respiratory emergency care, intravenous fluids and medications. Upon completion of a paramedic program, students are eligible to sit for the NREMT examinations to become certified paramedics.
Usually offered by technical schools and community colleges, paramedic degree programs require applicants to have at least an EMT-Basic license, hold a current CPR certification and meet all general admission requirements of the school to which they are applying. Potential students must also submit vaccination records and show proof of medical clearance from a physician.
Associate degree programs for paramedics require extensive coursework and clinical field experiences that prepare them for advanced careers in pre-hospital care settings and health administration. Paramedic courses typically cover the following topics:
- Advanced airway management
- EMS operations
- Intravenous therapy
Continuing education requirements to maintain an EMT-Basic certification include 40 hours of didactic coursework plus a refresher course to verify skill competencies every two years. Individuals seeking career advancement in the field of emergency medical services will enroll in an EMT-Intermediate training program.
Individuals certified at the EMT-Intermediate level are expected to complete continuing education credits and didactic practice in order to refresh their skills and renew their certifications every two years. Further education is available through an EMT-Paramedic program, often resulting in an emergency medical services associate degree.
Certified paramedics are required to complete a minimum of 72 hours of didactic practice and refresher continuing education credits every two years in order to maintain their certifications. Although paramedic is the highest level of training within the field of emergency medical services, a number of individuals continue their education by enrolling in training programs for more advanced medical occupations, such as registered nurses, physicians and other healthcare personnel.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of EMTs and paramedics is projected to grow 24% from 2014-2024. Emergency medical services personnel are needed within hospitals, private ambulance services, medical clinics and local government agencies. Wages and salaries for EMTs and paramedics vary depending on the level of training, geographical location and employment setting.
As of 2015, the BLS reported that the highest-paid ten percent of individuals in the field of emergency medical services earned annual salaries of over $55,110. Median annual wages were $31,980 in the same year. The largest percentage of EMTs - almost 50% in 2015 - are employed by ambulance services.
Through in-class and hands-on clinical training, EMT-basic and EMT-intermediate diploma programs teach students the technical and medical skills needed to be EMTs. Some EMTs go on to earn an emergency medical services associate's degree to become an EMT-Paramedic.