February 15, 2021
How to Become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are healthcare heroes, relied upon and respected for their calm and competence in the face of crisis. This highly rewarding entry-level healthcare career often serves as a stepping-stone to positions of greater responsibility in emergency response or medicine.

This guide will explain what an EMT is, what they do, how to become one and more!

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Part One What Is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)?

Emergency Medical Technicians are entry-level care providers who respond to life-threatening medical emergencies. They provide care and support at the scene of accidents and in locations where people are suddenly injured or become ill.

EMTs play a crucial role in the delivery of emergency medical services, responding to and caring for roughly 25 to 30 million Americans every year. 

Armed with the knowledge and training needed to stabilize people in emergent situations, they are often the first healthcare professionals on the scene, ready to respond to their immediate needs and transport them to facilities able to provide more extensive treatment. 

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Part Two What Do EMTs Do? 

EMTs generally arrive first on the scene and provide the initial treatment for patients with injuries or issues provoked by age or illness. 

In addition to providing basic life-saving care, they are also responsible for safely transporting individuals to hospitals or other facilities where they can receive advanced care.

EMTs attempt to stabilize patients until they arrive at the hospital. This frequently involves wrapping wounds, providing CPR, stabilizing head or neck injuries or broken bones, administering medications, dealing with and preventing shock, administering oxygen and more. 

Their responsibilities often include: 

  1. Operating emergency vehicles to and from accidents and locations where patients have been injured or ill, as well as from one facility to another
  2. Assessing patients’ conditions and responsiveness
  3. Assessing the severity of an emergency situation and whether additional assistance is needed at the scene
  4. Mitigating incidents through crowd control and similar duties meant to establish calm and safety
  5. Assisting other first responders and emergency medical personnel
  6. Organizing reception of patients at medical treatment facilities
  7. Completing patient care reports and other documentation

An EMT job is both physically and emotionally demanding. It generally involves working full-time for private ambulance companies, hospitals, or fire departments, on shifts that go round-the-clock and may require being on-call. 

Part Three EMT Salary 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, EMTs earn a median annual salary of $36,650.

The lowest-paid ten percent of EMTs earn under $24,650 and those in the top ten percent of the field earn more than $62,150.

EMT Salary Factors

Those who earn the highest compensation often have extensive experience or have pursued additional skills that classify them above the level of EMT-Basics or ET-1s to become Advanced EMTs. 

There are also income variables based upon where in the country you work. EMTs are required by all communities, but in some rural communities the EMT workforce is almost entirely made up of volunteers. 

By contrast, the EMTs who are earning top incomes generally work in the following states: 

  1. Hawaii - $56,610
  2. Washington - $56,140
  3. Maryland - $50,750
  4. Alaska - $50,640
  5. District of Columbia - $47,830

Part Four How to Become an EMT 

For many, the decision to become an EMT comes after having watched one of these professionals at work. In order to become one, you'll need to complete the following steps:

Step 1.) Earn Your High School Diploma or GED

Though the job is essential and requires comprehensive knowledge and training, it does not require a college degree. To become an EMT, you'll need a high school diploma or your General Education Development (GED). 

Step 2.) Get Your CPR Certification

Though not every EMT training program requires applicants to pass a CPR certification exam prior to admission, it’s a good idea to have completed a training program before applying. These programs are widely available, as they are offered regularly by both the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. 

Step 3.) Choose an EMT Program

The next step in becoming an EMT is to identify a state-approved certification program. These classes are offered by community colleges, trade schools, and emergency care training academies. 

To be sure that the program you select provides the appropriate training and preparation, confirm that it is listed on the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs website. 

Search Paramedic to RN Programs

With Achieve's Paramedic to RN "Test-Out Bridge Bridge Program," you can earn your ADN or BSN degree online in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs. All applicants must already be a Paramedic.

Are you a Paramedic?

Step 4.) Attend and Graduate from an EMT Program

Once admitted to an certified EMT program, expect to spend approximately six months learning the essential skills and information needed to perform all EMT duties and safety procedures. 

Accredited programs will include lessons in: 

  • The roles, responsibilities and professionalism required of EMS personnel
  • How to maintain personal and patient safety
  • The safe operation of emergency vehicles
  • Providing scene leadership
  • Performing patient assessment
  • Administering emergency medical care based on a range of medical conditions
  • Providing emotional support to patients, their family members and other responders
  • Resolving emergency incidents
  • Maintaining medical and legal standards
  • Developing community relations 

Step 5.) Pass EMT Certification Exams

Upon completion of the program, aspiring EMTs are required to pass two tests. 

  1. The first is a two-hour cognitive exam that will confirm knowledge of medical care, obstetrics and gynecology, respiration and ventilation, cardiology, and other essentials. This test is administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.
  2. The second test is a psychomotor exam that is administered locally, usually by the state’s emergency management services training program. This tests hands-on skills such as immobilizing spines, caring for fractures, controlling bleeding, and managing cardiac events.  Every state’s test will have its own content and requirements. 

Part Five Career Outlook for Emergency Medical Technicians

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting the need for emergency medical technicians will grow by six percent over the next ten years. This is slightly higher than the average of all other professions in the United States. 

As is true for most other allied health professions, the aging of the population is expected to lead to increased need for emergency medical services, while the number of natural disasters and accidents is unlikely to dissipate. 

There will always be a need for skilled professionals who can respond to emergency situations, making this a stable career with good job prospects.

>> Related: The Ultimate Guide to Paramedic to RN Bridge Programs

Part Six Continuing Education Requirements for EMTs

EMT certification needs to be renewed every two years. National certification can be renewed by taking the cognitive examination or through the completion of 40 hours of continuing education classes, though each state may also have additional requirements for licensure.  

The continuing education requirements include twenty hours of approved continuing education broken down by: 

  1. Airway/Respiration/Ventilation – 1.5 hours
  2. Cardiovascular – 6 hours
  3. Trauma – 1.5 hours
  4. Medical – 6 hours
  5. Operations – 5 hours 

There must also be ten hours of local or state content through an approved and accredited EMS-related educational program and ten additional hours of flexible content using any state or approved EMS-related educational programming. 

Part Seven Where Can I Learn More About Becoming an EMT?

EMT services are part of the nation’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system, which provides emergency medical care through both public and private agencies and organizations, trauma systems, rehabilitation facilities, volunteer networks, and more. 

There are many organizations and associations that exist to support EMS professionals, and they are available to provide those interested in the profession with resources and additional information.

These organizations include: 

  1. American Ambulance Association (AAA)
  2. National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) 
  3. Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs of the EMS Professions (CoAEMSP)
  4. National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT)
  5. American Trauma Society (ATS)
  6. Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS)
  7. Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS)

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Part Eight EMT FAQs

  • Who gets paid more, EMTs or paramedics?

    • Paramedics can earn over twice the salary that EMTs do. This is a reflection of their extensive training and advanced life-saving capabilities.
  • How long does it take to become an EMT?

    • Every state’s requirements are unique, but most programs require between 120 hours and 200 hours of classwork, followed by two exams required for certification. The process takes approximately six months.
  • How much do EMTs make per hour?

    • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the median pay for EMTs and paramedics is $17.02, which translates to $35,400 annually.
  • Is becoming an EMT worth it?

    • Becoming an EMT provides both economic benefits and personal satisfaction. The profession can be pursued with just six months of post-secondary education and provides a career that has tremendous job stability and respect. EMTs are also well-positioned to advance into other positions like paramedic or nurse.
  • Is EMT school difficult?

    • Every EMT program is different and so are student capabilities.  Additionally, there are wide variations between the education that different states require. EMT courses include anatomy, physiology, pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiology, gynecology, emergency management, and advanced first aid. Most require that students already have a valid CPR certification
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