How to Become an EMT in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an EMT. Learn about training requirements, licensure, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an EMT Do?

As an EMT (emergency medical technician), you will be one of the first to respond to accidents and emergency situations. It is your job to stabilize a person's condition on the scene and provide necessary medical care before transporting them to a hospital. EMTs are allowed to perform a variety of life-saving procedures, though the extent of the risk they're allowed to take depends on their skill level. An EMT-Basic, for example, cannot administer medication to a patient but can help them take their own, while a paramedic can administer medication (an EMT-Intermediate's exact duties vary greatly between states). After each completed response, you will also be in charge of resupplying any necessary medical equipment in your response vehicle and making a record of the procedures administered while on the job.

The table below can you tell you about certification and licensure requirements for EMTs, along with salary and employment projections.

Training Required EMT training program
Key Skills Problem-solving, decision-making, physical stamina, compassion
Licensure/Certification Licensure is required by all states; CPR certification is required to work as an EMT
Job Growth (2014-2024) 24% (for all emergency medical technicians and paramedics)*
Median Salary (2015) $31,980 (for all emergency medical technicians and paramedics)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an EMT?

EMTs are dispatched by 911 operators to the scenes of emergencies, where they stabilize patients and then transport them to medical facilities. If you decide to become an EMT, your scope of practice will vary depending on your level of training. EMT-Basics can assess patients, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), provide basic life support, use automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and assist patients with taking their own medications. EMT-Intermediates can perform some additional duties, but those duties may vary greatly between states. Paramedics are EMTs with the most advanced training and may provide advanced life support, administer medications both orally and intravenously, monitor electrocardiograms (EKGs), and perform endotracheal intubations.

Step 1: Earn a Basic Life Support (BLS) for Healthcare Providers Card

While some EMT-Basic programs allow you to concurrently earn an American Heart Association BLS for Healthcare Providers card, others require that you earn this card as a prerequisite. The BLS Healthcare Provider course offered by the American Heart Association provides instruction in performing CPR, using an AED, and relieving choking (americanheart.org). At the end of the course, you must pass a written and practical exam to receive your course completion card.

Step 2: Complete an EMT-Basic Training Program

EMT-Basic training may take as little as three weeks or as long as one semester to complete. During your training, you will receive instruction in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, assessing patients, treating traumatic injuries, delivering babies, and dealing with emotional problems. You will also be required to complete clinical and field experiences that allow you to work in a clinical environment and ride along on an ambulance. You must complete a background check and physical examination before you may complete your clinical and field experiences. Most EMT-Basic programs result in a certificate upon completion.

Step 3: Earn a License

After you have completed your EMT-Basic training course, you must become licensed. Although each state has its own licensure requirements, most require that you earn certification from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require continuing education and licensure renewal every 2-3 years (www.bls.gov).

Step 4: Complete an EMT-Intermediate Training Program

If you would like to advance your career after becoming a licensed EMT-Basic and gaining some work experience, you may go on to complete an EMT-Intermediate training program. The BLS reports that these programs require between 30 and 350 hours of training. You will study more advanced topics like intravenous therapy, pharmacology, advanced airway management, and EKG interpretation. You must then fulfill state licensure requirements, which may include earning certification from the NREMT.

Step 5: Consider Becoming a Paramedic

Most paramedic training programs last 1-2 years and result in a certificate or associate's degree. In some cases, you may enroll in a paramedic-training program after earning your EMT-Basic license. You may take courses in pharmacology, cardiology, critical care, pediatrics, and geriatrics. You may also be required to complete a field internship. After completion of your program, you must earn certification from the NREMT or complete other state licensure requirements.

What Are Some Related Careers?

Firefighters and police officers are two types of first responders working in tandem with EMTs and paramedics on the scene. In a hospital, registered nurses are typically involved when a patient arrives by emergency vehicle, taking their medical information from the responder before moving them for treatment.

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