If you are looking for a fast-paced, in-demand job where you have the opportunity to save lives, you might be thinking about becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT).
You probably have many questions about this career path, however. Is it easy to become an EMT? What kind of training is required? How long does it take? Do you need to get certified? What will you earn?
This guide will answer these questions so you know exactly what to expect. Let’s get started by talking about EMT basics.
What is an EMT?
An emergency medical technician is one type of first responder. If you have ever called an ambulance or had one called for you, EMTs were among the professionals that provided the emergency medical assistance you needed.
Here is the formal description offered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT):
“Emergency Medical Technicians provide out of hospital emergency medical care and transportation for critical and emergent patients who access the emergency medical services (EMS) system.
EMTs have the basic knowledge and skills necessary to stabilize and safely transport patients ranging from non-emergency and routine medical transports to life threatening emergencies.
Emergency Medical Technicians function as part of a comprehensive EMS response system, under medical oversight. Emergency Medical Technicians perform interventions with the basic equipment typically found on an ambulance.
EMTs are a critical link between the scene of an emergency and the health care system.”
Some of the procedures you may perform as an EMT include:
Initial patient assessments
Bag valve mask ventilation
Is an EMT a Paramedic?
Delineating between EMTs and paramedics may be confusing. Both are classified as emergency medical services (EMS) personnel.
The differences between an EMT and a paramedic include:
1-Their level of education and certification.
2-The duties they can perform.
Indeed, here is a list of EMS certification levels:
Emergency Medical Responder (EMR): This is the most basic level of EMS professional with the lowest amount of training. An EMR can perform mouth-to-mouth and CPR.
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT): An EMT can do more than an EMR. Along with everything an EMR can do, an EMT can also handle most basic stabilization procedures before and during transit in an ambulance.
Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT): The next level up is an AEMT, who can do everything an EMT does, but also provide certain medications and fluids. There is also equipment that an EMT cannot use in an ambulance, but an AEMT can.
Paramedic: Paramedics can provide many more different drugs than EMTs and AEMTs, and also use additional advanced equipment.
There is a huge difference in training between an EMT and a paramedic. Only around 170 hours of coursework are required to become an EMT. A paramedic, by contrast, must complete a course of at least 1,200 hours.
How Much Do EMTs Make?
For salary information for EMTs, we will turn to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On this page for EMTs and paramedics, the BLS lists the following information:
2020 median pay: $36,650 per year, $17.62 per hour
The BLS also states, “The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,650, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,150.”
The bureau provides the following breakdown as well:
Hospitals; state, local, and private: $38,640
Local government, excluding education and hospitals: $38,580
Ambulance services: $34,250
So, this is not the highest paying job in the medical field. But that reflects the relatively small amount of education necessary to become an EMT.
The main reasons to take this job are:
Job growth: The BLS says that this job is growing at a 6% rate, which is faster than average.
Low entry barriers: As we will discuss below, you do not need to jump through a lot of hoops to start working as an EMT. If time and money are limited, you can springboard this career quickly and cost-effectively.
Passion: Many people choose to become EMTs because they know they will be making a difference in peoples’ lives.
What Do You Need to Become an EMT?
Check Your State’s Requirements
If you want to become an EMT, you will need to begin by checking the requirements in the state where you want to work.
For example, the state of California lists its requirements for EMTs on this page. The summary of the requirement is, “The State of California requires all persons that provide EMT or AEMT level scope of practice emergency medical services to obtain a valid state issued EMT or AEMT certification from a certifying entity or LEMSA.”
For another example, you can see the requirements to become an EMT in Virginia here. The requirement the state lists with respect to certification is, “Hold current certification in an Office of Emergency Medical Services approved cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course at the beginning date of the EMT course. This certification must also be current at the time of state testing.”
That page is for people with no existing certifications. On a separate page, the state says, “The Office of Emergency Medical Services recognizes all current National Registry certifications for reciprocity.”
Do You Need to Have a College Degree to Become an EMT?
You need to have a high school diploma or a GED to become an emergency medication technician. But you do not need a college degree.
This is one of the major appeals of going into this field. You do not need to worry about going deep into student loan debt. You can just complete a brief course and get right to work.
Do You Need a Certification to Become an EMT?
Yes, you do. When you check the page that your state maintains that tells you how to become an EMT, you will see which certifications are required and accepted.
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) provides certifications for EMRs, EMTs, AEMTs, and paramedics, as well as recertification services.
On this page on the NREMT website, you can find a full list of requirements to obtain the NREMT certification. These include:
Successful completion of a state-approved Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course that meets or exceeds the National Emergency Medical Services Education Standards for the Emergency Medical Technician.
Candidates must have completed the course within the past two years and the course Program Director must verify successful course completion on the National Registry website.
Have a current CPR-BLS for “Healthcare Provider” or equivalent credential.
Successful completion of the National Registry cognitive (knowledge) and a state approved psychomotor (skills) exams.
Passed portions of the cognitive and psychomotor exam remain valid for 24 months. For candidates with a course completion date prior to November 1, 2018, passed portions of each examination are valid for 12 months. Provided all other entry requirements are met.
You can find additional information on the application process on that page. You will notice that there is a $98 application fee.
Tabs on that page provide you with further details on the Cognitive Exam and the Psychomotor Exam.
Once you have successfully passed the exams and fulfilled all the requirements for NREMT certification, you will receive that certification.
Keep in mind that depending on your state, you may also have to apply for certification through your local EMS agency.
California is an example of a state where this is the case.
The state explains, “The NREMT is the cognitive (written) and psychomotor (skills) exam used to qualify EMTs for certification in the State of California. Once you have passed the exams and received your EMT National Registry certificate, you may contact a local EMS agency to apply for EMT certification in California. Once you have passed the background check and met all requirements provided to you from the certifying entity, you will be assigned an EMT number from the State Central Registry and your EMT card will be issued. Until this process is complete, you may not work as an EMT in the State of California.”
Additionally, there are some states that only require state certification to become an EMR, and do not require national certification.
So, it is very important to make sure you are following the requirements for your state and for the specific type of EMS position that you want.
How Do You Complete Your EMT Training?
As discussed above, before you can be certified as an EMT, you need to complete a state-approved EMT course.
To gain entry to a course, you need your high-school diploma or GED as well as CPR certification.
So, that database is one place you can begin your search for a program that is accredited for your state.
The 150-170 or so hours that you spend in your emergency medical technician course will include a mixture of theoretical and practical knowledge and training.
You will need to be able to travel locally for your course, since you will have to spend time in an ambulance or at the hospital learning some of the skills you will put into action each day to save lives as an EMT.
If you think you may want to advance your career later, you will have to enter into a more extensive training program for paramedics.
But the good news is that EMT certification is a prerequisite for a paramedical training program, and you will already have that under your belt.
How Can You Find EMT Schools in Your Area?
Now you know how to become an emergency medical technician. While the requirements vary by state, the basic steps are simple:
1. Look up what your state requires.
2. Earn your high school diploma or GED.
3. Get a CPR certification.
4. Enroll in a state-approved EMT course.
5. Complete the course.
6. Apply for the appropriate national and/or state certifications.
Ready to find emergency medical technician schools approved in your state? Click the link below to take the next step in your journey to becoming a certified EMT.