What Does a Paramedic Do? What Does an EMT Do?
If you like helping people and work well in a fast-paced, changing environment, either of these in-demand jobs could be a good fit for you.
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are often the first medical personnel to reach a sick or injured person.
They respond to emergency calls, transport patients to medical facilities and perform emergency medical care onsite or enroute to the hospital. The medical team’s quick reaction time is critical and often results in lives saved.
The specific responsibilities of EMTs and paramedics depend on their level of certification and the state they work in. There are four levels of expertise, including emergency medical responder (EMR), EMT, Advanced EMT and paramedic. We’ll go into more detail on these levels below.
EMS calls can range from a life-saving emergency to a mundane health need, but the response team is always focused and ready to help.
These jobs require a steady, calm demeanor, especially when a patient isn’t rational or the situation gets out of hand.
If that sounds like a career you'd enjoy, keep reading to learn more.
- Respond to 911 calls for emergency medical care
- Assess a patient’s condition and determine what medical procedures are needed
- Provide first-aid treatment to patients (Depending on role, this may include life support)
- Transport patients by ambulance to a medical facility quickly and safely
- Share observations with healthcare staff
- Document medical care
- Check that the ambulance is properly equipped and mechanically sound
- Keep supplies and equipment updated and clean
How To Become a Paramedic or EMT: FAQs
EMT vs. paramedic: What’s the difference?
In emergency medical services, there are several levels of training. Each level on builds on the last and provides a higher level of patient care.
EMRs: These certified first responders are trained in providing basic, life-saving patient care but they don’t provide advanced care. They typically wait for other medical team members with more training to arrive.
EMTs: In addition to the EMR skills, EMTs can provide emergency care in the ambulance — such as administering oxygen and providing a limited number of medications — and assess a patient’s condition. They can manage trauma emergencies, such as a heart attack, and deliver a baby. The most important skill at this stage is being able to properly assess if someone is dying or in danger of dying.
Advanced EMTs: Also called an EMT-Intermediate, these technicians have more medical knowledge than basic EMTs. They can provide advanced services, including administering intravenous fluids or medications that EMTs and EMRs are not trained in.
Paramedics: This is the highest level of EMS care, also called pre-hospital care. Paramedics build on all previously mentioned EMT training. They can start intravenous fluids, interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs), administer additional medications and provide more extensive critical care.
Each state sets the rules for what each medical professional can do.
What steps are involved in becoming a paramedic or EMT?
Before you can begin any training or educational program, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent and certification of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills.
Entry-level emergency medical technology programs cover patient assessment, clearing an airway and cardiac emergencies. This includes about 150 hours of instruction and onsite observation.
Advanced EMTs take about 400 hours of instruction focused on more complex levels of care.
Paramedics earn EMT certification and successful completion of an associate degree. Paramedic training includes 1,200 hours of instruction.
Community colleges, technical schools, universities and facilities that specialize in emergency care offer training programs. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) offers a list of accredited programs for EMTs and paramedics.
Most EMTs and paramedics apply for national certification after passing both a written and a skills exam given by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). However, some states rely on state certification for entry-level positions.
Are there any other qualifications?
Emergency personnel need to have a valid driver’s license. Most take a short course on how to drive an ambulance.
Most states require that EMTs be 18 years old with no criminal history.
All states require EMTs and paramedics to be licensed, but the requirements vary.
How long does it take to become a paramedic? What about becoming an EMT?
It varies by program. Most entry-level emergency medical technology programs can be completed in less than a year. An associate degree to become a paramedic takes two years.
Is there a demand for paramedics and EMTs?
Yes. Emergencies always happen, so the need for these trained health professionals never goes away. Add to that a growing population of older people, and you can see why these jobs are needed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth of about 11% from 2020 to 2030.
Where do they work?
EMTs and paramedics work for ambulance services, hospitals, fire departments and other local government branches.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful EMTs and paramedics tend to exhibit these traits:
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- Physically fit
- Works well under pressure
- Good problem-solving skills