How to Become a Paramedic

7 Min Read Published October 3, 2023
how to become a paramedic

What Is a Paramedic?

For individuals searching for a helping career on the front lines of healthcare and emergency management, becoming a paramedic can be a smart choice. Paramedics play an essential role in saving lives, often stabilizing patients before they're transferred to hospitals.

Typically a part of emergency medical services (EMS), paramedics are highly trained medical professionals who are often the first healthcare providers to arrive at the scene of accidents or instances of injury and/or illness. Paramedics work in high-pressure situations and are trained to evaluate and treat patients.

Throughout this article, we dig into everything you need to know about how to become a paramedic, what these essential workers do, and the earning potential and job prospects that new paramedics can expect after earning their certification. Keep reading to learn more about this vital and growing career.

What Do Paramedics Do?

While offering services similar to EMTs, paramedics have advanced training to provide vital care while at the scene of an accident or on the way to the hospital. 

Often working in ambulance services, paramedics encounter an expansive range of emergency healthcare scenarios spanning from delivering babies to addressing drug overdoses. Additionally, paramedics oversee a team of EMTs while responding to emergencies.

Common responsibilities for paramedics include:

  • Responding to emergency calls and providing prompt emergency medical care at the scene of accidents, illnesses, and injuries.
  • Evaluating patient conditions while gathering relevant medical information.
  • Managing critical injuries, including cardiac monitoring and defibrillation.
  • Administering medications and intravenous fluids.
  • Working closely with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care.
  • Collecting and documenting patient information.
  • Transporting patients to medical facilities via ambulance while offering continuing medical care.
  • Compassionately and effectively communicating with patients and families.
  • Cleaning and maintenance of ambulances, medical equipment, and supplies.

While there's no fixed set of skills that make for a compassionate and competent paramedic, due to the career's often intense work environment, this field might not be for everyone. Skills and qualities that make a strong paramedic include:

  • Problem-solving skills: Paramedics often encounter complex medical emergencies that change rapidly, requiring effective decision-making and quick thinking.

  • Compassion and empathy: These professionals routinely work with patients and families in distress—providing calming reassurance can help defuse stressful situations.

  • Communication skills: Besides communicating with patients and families, gathering and relaying essential information to doctors and nurses is vital.

  • Attention to detail: Paramedics must be thorough when assessing patients and recording medical histories.

  • Teamwork: Paramedics work in an intensely collaborative environment and must work effectively with other emergency workers and healthcare professionals.

  • Cultural competence: Paramedics often work with diverse populations, and understanding and respecting varying backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures can influence the quality of care provided.

  • Adaptability and flexibility: Paramedics work in varying settings and often face changing and unpredictable emergency situations, and responding quickly in volatile scenarios is essential to quality care.

Paramedic Scope of Practice

For paramedics, the scope of practice can vary between states and by the level of certification. Paramedics complete the training and earn the certification needed to provide a broad spectrum of emergency medical care, including performing advanced life support procedures, assisting in cardiac emergencies, administering medications, and assisting with childbirth. 

Paramedics typically work as part of an EMS team while collaborating with other healthcare professionals to coordinate what is often life-saving care. While their professional responsibilities feel extensive, paramedics still work within a defined scope of practice while adhering to state regulations and protocols.

Paramedic Work Environment 

After earning their professional certification, paramedics can expect to work in fast-paced, dynamic environments while providing medical care in varying settings. 

Whether they're responding to emergency calls in vast urban centers or remote settings like national parks, paramedics lean on their training in high-stress situations that can literally mean life or death.

Because paramedics commonly work within an EMS team, these professionals often work hand-in-glove with EMTs, police officers, firefighters, nurses, and doctors. Paramedics can expect to tackle shift work that includes nights, weekends, holidays, and on-call scenarios.

Common work environments include:

  • Ambulances and emergency response vehicles
  • Hospitals and healthcare facilities
  • Outdoor and remote locations
  • Public events and mass gatherings
  • Disaster and crisis situations
  • Home and community settings
  • Training and educational institutions

How to Become a Paramedic

Step 1: Earn Your Degree 

The first step in becoming a paramedic involves completing the formal education required for licensure. This typically involves completing a paramedic certificate program or a 2-year associate degree. 

Step 2: Obtain Required Certifications

Once an individual completes their paramedic education program, they must pass paramedic certification exams. These exams can vary by state, but common certifications include Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and other specialized certifications.

Step 3: Gain Hands-On Experience  

Practical training is a significant part of the training experience for future paramedics. This traditionally involves completing a set number of hours in a supervised setting where individuals work alongside experienced paramedics.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure 

After completing academic and hands-on training requirements, it's time to secure state licensure. While licensure requirements vary by state, the licensure exam is traditionally administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). 

Types of Paramedic Programs

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs typically take between 9-18 months and are a solid choice for students looking for the quickest path to enter the workforce.

Associate Degree 

A two-year associate degree pathway takes a bit longer but is an excellent choice for students wanting the chance to expand their academic credentials and career options. 

In addition to providing theoretical and practical training, associate degrees also supply advanced training in areas like trauma management and cardiology. 

Alongside paramedic training, associate degree students also complete general education classes. An associate degree not only prepares students for their paramedic career, but acts as a first step toward a bachelor's degree. 

Paramedic Salary 

The median annual paramedic salary is $39,410 as of May 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but that only tells part of the story. BLS also shows that the top 10% of paramedics earn more than $76,630 per year. 

Multiple factors can impact how much paramedics can earn, including experience, specializations, education, and geographic location.

Highest-Paying States for Paramedics

  1. Washington - $90,980

  2. New Jersey - $76,500

  3. California - $71,470

  4. Connecticut - $64,590

  5. District of Columbia - $64,260

Source: BLS

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Paramedics

  1. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA - $106,790

  2. Bremerton-Silverdale, WA - $104,490

  3. Bellingham, WA - $100,320

  4. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA - $95,620

  5. Olympia-Tumwater, WA - $93,980

Source: BLS

Paramedic Salary by Years of Experience  

Paramedics acquire more skills over the years that they work in the profession, and their increased experience and knowledge earn them greater compensation. According to, median annual earnings for occupational therapists based on the number of years in the field are: 

  • Less than 1 year of experience earn an average hourly wage of $18.20 

  • 1 to 4 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $19.50

  • 5 to 9 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $20.34

  • 10 to 14 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $22.36

  • 20+ years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $24.05

Paramedic Career Outlook

The job outlook for paramedics is generally pretty positive, with the BLS projecting the field to grow by 5% between 2022-2032, about as fast as the average for all occupations. In addition, EMTs and paramedics can also anticipate about 14,600 job openings each year.

Like other fields in the healthcare sphere, this demand for competent and compassionate paramedics is primarily driven by an aging population and an increase in chronic health conditions. Additionally, the need for paramedics is expected to grow in rural areas with limited healthcare facilities.

Paramedic Continuing Education Requirements

According to the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, Nationally Registered Paramedics (NRP) are required to renew their certification biannually. They can complete this through continuing education hours or by retaking the cognitive portion of the national certification exam.

For those completing continuing education (CE), before renewing their paramedic certification, they must complete 60 hours of approved CE coursework. The 60 hours are divided into national, local/state, and individual components. The national certification component requires individuals to tackle approved continuing education in topics like respiration, trauma, operations, cardiovascular, and medical. 

The local or state component comprises 15 hours and is designed to meet the certification requirements laid out by state EMS offices. These can vary, with California requiring 24 hours of live instruction over two years, while paramedics in Florida must dedicate ten hours to medical emergencies. 

Where Can I Learn More about Paramedics?

Paramedic FAQs

  • What does a paramedic do?

    • Paramedics utilize specialized training to provide emergency medical care in various settings. Often working in high-stress scenarios, these professionals assess patients, administer medications, and communicate with other healthcare workers to provide the best possible care.
  • How long does it take to become a paramedic?

    • The time it takes to become a paramedic can vary, but students can expect 1-2 years as a general rule. After completing coursework and gaining hands-on experience in the field, graduates must pass the NREMT certification exam. Paramedic associate degrees typically take longer than certificate programs but offer a clear pathway toward a bachelor's degree.
  • What skills and qualities are essential for paramedics?

    • Because paramedics often work in high-pressure situations, they need to have strong clinical and problem-solving skills. Standout communication skills and the ability to work in a team-centric environment is also vital.
  • How much do paramedics earn?

    • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual income for paramedics is $39,410. Additionally, the top 10% of paramedics make more than $76,630 per year. 

Next Steps to Becoming a Paramedic

People don't seek out their paramedic career if they're preoccupied with accumulating massive wealth. Instead, becoming a paramedic is a rewarding pathway that allows people to make a real difference in the lives of others in their community. 

Studying to become a paramedic offers a quick and relatively inexpensive way to jumpstart a healthcare career. And while one shouldn't ignore the heavy physical and emotional demands of this role, the rewards for making a positive impact are immeasurable. 

James Mielke
James Mielke Contributor

James Mielke is a freelance writer currently based in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to writing extensively about higher education and career topics, he has contributed to Eaten: The Food History Magazine, The Midwesterner, and Golfweek. James has a history degree from Nashville's Belmont University and is on a spiritual quest to make the world's best biscuit.

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