How to Become an EMT: Career Roadmap

Apr 27, 2020

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.

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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 an 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 Skills & Info

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
Median Salary (2019) $35,400 annually (for all EMTs and paramedics)

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

EMTs should be compassionate and physically fit and have strong communication, interpersonal, and listening skills. The ability to handle stress well and think quickly is also key to working in the field. EMTs and paramedics can look forward to a 7% - or a faster than average - growth in jobs between 2018 and 2028, as projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of May 2019, they earned a median annual salary of $35,400.

In this next part of the lesson we'll discuss the requirements for participating in an EMT-Basic certificate program.

Steps 1: EMT-Basic Certificate

Many community colleges and healthcare institutions, including fire academies and hospitals, offer EMT-Basic certificate programs. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Typically 100 hours in length, EMT-Basic certificate programs provide an introductory level of training for emergency services personnel. 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 at a local hospital. Volunteering at a local hospital can help an aspiring EMT adjust to working in the medical field and practice communicating with and helping patients. Additionally, volunteer experience may help an EMT stand out to potential employers.

Step 2: EMT Basic Training Exam

After completing all the required coursework for the EMT-Basic certificate, students take a certification exam. 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 the final examination in coordination with state-certified organizations.

Step 3: EMT State License

All states require EMTs to become licensed after they are certified, but requirements for licensure vary. EMTs must also renew their licenses every few years by completing continuing education courses. This ensures that EMTs understand advances in the field and are up to date on their training. Some areas of continuing education include:

  • Assessing patient conditions
  • Child specialties
  • Prepping patients, and
  • Types of injuries and illness

Step 4: Experience

By working alongside paramedics, firefighters, and police officers, EMTs acquire the skills needed to work 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. Obtaining work experience in the field is not only important to EMTs, who have to handle stressful situations, but also to potential patients. Experience in the field can also help EMTs acquire professional credibility and earn promotions.

Step 5: Advanced Training

Additional training and certifications for EMT-Basics include EMT-Intermediate or EMT-Paramedic. Each level requires additional study and passing of NREMT examinations. According to the BLS, 1,000 hours of training are usually required to advance to the EMT-Intermediate level. After completing advanced or continuing education programs, EMTs can become supervisors, instructors, or physician assistants.

Let's review. You'll need to be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and successfully complete the coursework and exam for the EMT-Basic Certificate to qualify for a job as an EMT.

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