How Can I Become an EMS Worker?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in emergency medical services (EMS). Read on to learn more about career options, along with education, certification and state licensure information. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an EMS Worker?

EMS workers include certified first responders, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics. While requirements vary depending on what level of EMS worker you want to be, any type of EMS work involves responding to medical emergencies. This means arriving quickly - usually by ambulance - to a scene to provide immediate care for a sick or injured patient, and continuing to monitor or care for them until they reach a medical facility.

Quick reaction time and good decision making are critical skills for EMS workers, in addition to the in-depth medical knowledge they're required to have. The different levels of EMS worker are dictated by the amount of training they require, and job duties are slightly different for each level.

The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Postsecondary training program; certificate, diploma and associate's degree programs available
Education Field of Study Emergency medical technology, paramedic technology
Additional Requirements CPR certification
Licensure/Certification State licensure and NREMT certification required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 24% for all emergency medical technicians and paramedics*
Average Salary (2015) $35,430 for all emergency medical technicians and paramedics*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Get Your EMS Worker Training

The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) recognizes five different levels of emergency medical service (EMS) workers. Certified first responder is the most basic level, followed by emergency medical technician-basic (EMT-B) and two levels of EMT-Intermediate. Paramedic is the highest level of EMS worker certified by the NREMT.

Regardless of which level you pursue, you need to earn certification to work as an EMS worker. Forty-six out of the 50 states rely on the NREMT to certify at least one level of their EMS workers, but some states maintain their own certification standards. To enter a training program, you typically need a high school diploma.

You have several options for completing your EMS worker training. Across the country, many community colleges, technical schools and universities offer training programs for the various levels of EMS providers. You might also find EMS training programs at a local hospital or community health organization like the American Red Cross. To become a paramedic, you typically need to complete one or two years of training. These programs typically prepare you to take the certification exam and often result in an associate's degree.

Take the Certification Exam

Once you've completed a qualifying formal training program, you need to pass an exam in order to complete the certification process. Exam requirements vary depending upon your state's certification standards and the level of certification you pursue. If your state relies on the NREMT for certification, you typically need to complete written, practical and psychomotor exams. You also need to gain re-certification every year or two.

Get a State License

All 50 states require licensure for EMS levels EMT-B and higher. In many states, you need NREMT certification to get your state license at some or all levels; however, some states may give you the option of taking a state exam. Continuing education is generally required to maintain a license, especially at the EMT and paramedic levels, and most states require you to renew your license every 2-3 years.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in become an EMS worker, you likely enjoy working in fast-paced environments, responding to potentially life-threatening emergencies. In light of this, you could also consider becoming a firefighter, by completing a training program and licensing requirements. Firefighters respond to emergencies involving fires or explosions. Another career to consider, if you are particularly interested in a healthcare profession, is nursing. Registered nurses work in a hospital or clinic to provide direct patient care and advice. A bachelor's degree is required in order to become a registered nurse.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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