Communities across the nation rely on emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to deliver life-saving care during medical crises. Though a need for these healthcare heroes spans the nation, they are most in demand in Los Angeles, California, according to a report from Zippia.
EMTs enjoy a highly rewarding job, steady employment, and plenty of room for growth in the healthcare field. But how do you become an EMT, and what can you expect from the position?
Consider this your ultimate guide to becoming an emergency medical technician. In this article, we'll explore how to become an EMT, what they do, salary expectations, and more. Read on to learn everything you need to know about entering this exciting career field.
Part One What Is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)?
EMT stands for emergency medical technician. They are entry-level healthcare professionals who respond to life-threatening medical emergencies. EMTs provide care and support at the scene of accidents and locations where people have sudden injuries or illnesses.
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, EMTS are often the first healthcare professionals on the scene. They respond to patients' immediate needs and transport them to medical facilities where they receive more extensive treatment.
EMT vs Paramedic: What's the Difference?
EMTs differ from paramedics, who have more education and a larger scope of practice. You can learn more about how to become a paramedic from an academic advisor at your local community college or trade school.
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 advanced care facilities.
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:
- Operating emergency vehicles to and from accidents and locations where patients have been injured or ill, as well as from one facility to another
- Assessing patients’ conditions and responsiveness
- Assessing the severity of an emergency situation and whether additional assistance is needed at the scene
- Mitigating incidents through crowd control and similar duties meant to establish calm and safety
- Assisting other first responders and emergency medical personnel
- Organizing reception of patients at medical treatment facilities
- 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 $36,680. The lowest-paid ten percent of EMTs earn under $28,270, and those in the top ten percent of the field earn more than $56,890.
EMT Salary Factors
Emergency medical technicians who earn the most typically have more experience or credentials. They pursue additional skills that classify them above the level of EMT-Basics or ET-1s to become Advanced EMTs.
You may also earn more or less depending on where you work. Although every community needs EMTs, volunteers comprise the EMT workforce in some rural areas.
By contrast, the EMTs who are earning top incomes generally work in the following states:
- Hawaii - $27.30 per hour | $56,790 per year
- Maryland - $26.01 per hour | $54,110 per year
- Alaska - $25.52 per hour | $53,080 per year
- District of Columbia - $24.79 per hour | $51,550 per year
- Massachusetts - $23.80 per hour | $49,500 per year
Part Four How to Become an EMT: Requirements & Schooling
The reasons for becoming an EMT are vast and varied. Some want rapid entry into the healthcare field, while others feel inspired after seeing an EMT at work. No matter why you want to become an EMT, the steps to becoming one are quite standard:
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
Some, but not all, EMT schools require applicants to pass a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) program prior to admission. Regardless, it's a good idea to complete the program before applying, especially if you apply to multiple programs with varying requirements.
Both the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross offer CPR certification programs nationwide.
Step 3. Attend and Graduate from an EMT Program
Community colleges, trade schools, and emergency care training academies offer state-approved EMT programs you can attend.
Accreditation is paramount when selecting an EMT school. Before attending your program, ensure the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs lists the school on its website.
How Long is EMT School?
EMT programs last approximately six months. During this time, you'll learn the essential skills and knowledge necessary to perform all EMT duties and safety procedures.
Your EMT program 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
- Maintaining medical and legal standards
Step 4. Pass EMT Certification Exams
After completing your program, you'll have one last step to becoming an EMT - Certification. You must pass two tests to get EMT certified.
- Cognitive Exam: The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) administers this test. It will confirm your knowledge of medical care, obstetrics and gynecology, respiration and ventilation, cardiology, and other essentials.
- Psychomotor Exam: Your state's emergency management services training program administers this test locally. This hands-on skills exam covers topics like immobilizing spines, caring for fractures, controlling bleeding, and managing cardiac events. However, every state has 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 five percent over the next ten years. This is slightly faster growth 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 an 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.
Part Six Continuing Education Requirements for EMTs
EMTs must renew their certification every two years. You can renew the national certification by taking the cognitive exam or by completing 40 hours of continuing education classes. Keep in mind that each state may have additional licensure requirements.
EMT Continuing Education: National Component
The national component comprises 50% of EMTs' continuing education requirements to renew their national EMS certifications. You'll only be able to apply credits at or above your certification level toward national component requirements. The NREMT breaks down national component education hours as follows:
- Airway/Respiration/Ventilation - 1.5 Hours
- Trauma - 1.5 Hours
- Medical - 6 Hours
- Operations - 5 Hours
- Cardiovascular - 6 Hours
EMT Continuing Education: Local Component
The state or local component of your EMT national recertification may differ depending on where you live. If your state has specific continuing education requirements, you'll follow those and apply them to recertification.
If not, the NREMT requires 10 hours of education directly related to patient care at the state or local level. However, these hours are flexible. You can apply education hours below, at, or above your certification level toward this component.
EMT Continuing Education: Individual Component
The NREMT requires individuals to complete 10 hours of EMS training related to patient care for the individual component. The organization notes that these hours are flexible, and EMTs can apply credits below, at, or above their certification levels to this component.
Check out the NREMT recertification guide for more specific requirements.
Part Seven Where Can I Learn More About Becoming an EMT?
EMT services are part of the nation’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system. The EMS provides emergency medical care through public and private organizations, trauma systems, rehabilitation facilities, volunteer networks, and more.
Many associations support EMS professionals and can provide additional resources and information about becoming an EMT:
- American Ambulance Association (AAA)
- National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)
- Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs of the EMS Professions (CoAEMSP)
- National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT)
- American Trauma Society (ATS)
- Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS)
- Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS)
Part Eight EMT FAQs
Who gets paid more, EMTs or paramedics?
- The average paramedic salary can be twice as much as an EMT's. 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?
- EMTs earn $17.64 per hour or $36,680 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2022.
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 in 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.