Paramedic: Job Duties, Occupational Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Explore the career requirements for paramedics. Get the facts about job duties, employment outlook, salary and education requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Paramedic?

Paramedics provide emergency medical care to patients at the scene of an accident, injury or illness, as well as transporting them to medical facilities for further care. These emergency medicine professionals must quickly evaluate a patient after responding to a 911 call and determine a treatment plan. They are responsible for documenting any medical care that they give, checking inventory and cleaning any medical supplies that are used. Paramedics are also qualified to administer medication, interpret EKGs and provide more extensive care than an EMT. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this profession.

Degree Required Certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Paramedicine
Training Required for Paramedic Program Enrollment EMT-Basic certification, current BLS card, 6 months of EMT work
Key Skills Administer first-aid, medication and life support; obtain patient medical history; transport patient to medical facility
Certification/Licensure Required License required in all states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 24%*
Average Salary (2015) $35,430*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What are the Typical Job Duties of a Paramedic?

Paramedics are dispatched to the scenes of emergencies where they examine patients and provide first aid and life support as necessary. As a paramedic, you will sometimes be required to administer medications, such as sedatives, analgesics, antibiotics and narcotics. These medications may be administered orally, intravenously or rectally. It is important that you have a thorough understanding of pharmacology and that you obtain a thorough medical history from patients, including any drugs that they may take. Other tasks that you may need to perform include performing endotracheal intubations, suctioning stomachs, immobilizing patients using backboards and interpreting electrocardiograms (EKGs).

After a patient is stabilized, he or she must then be transported to a medical facility to be handed over to other healthcare professionals for further care. You will most likely work with another paramedic. One paramedic drives the ambulance while the other sits in back and monitors the patient. When you get to the medical facility, you will need to let staff know of any treatments that you performed, as well as your observations. You must also keep records of each call and replenish ambulance equipment as needed.

What Type of Job Outlook is Expected?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics will grow 24% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations (www.bls.gov). A growing aging population is expected to increase the likelihood of medical emergencies, thus increasing the need for EMTs and paramedics. Plus, emergency rooms are frequently overcrowded, which increases the amount of time that EMTs and paramedics must spend with each patient. This is also likely to increase the number of job positions. Job prospects are expected to be good since paid employees are needed to replace volunteers who have a high turnover rate. To increase your employment opportunities, seek employment with private ambulance services or in cities, since competition is greater for government positions.

The BLS also reports that the average annual salary for paramedics and EMTs was about $35,430 in May 2015. During the same month, the highest-paying states were the District of Columbia (average $59,010), Washington (average $58,370) and Alaska (average $54,000), while the top-paying employers were state governments, with an average of $59,890.

What Education Prerequisites Will I Need to Fulfill?

To become a paramedic, you will need to complete a paramedic training course. Some paramedic courses take less than a year to complete and result in a certificate, while others take up to two years to complete and result in an associate's degree. However, both types of programs can prepare you to become a licensed paramedic.

To enroll in a paramedic training program, you first need to be certified as an EMT-Basic, hold a current American Heart Association Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers card and have at least six months of experience working as an EMT. Training to become an EMT-Basic can take as little as three weeks or as long as one semester. Students are typically instructed in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), patient assessment and various types of emergencies. After completion of the training program, you must obtain a license from your state before you may begin working. Some states require that you pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification exam, while other states administer their own examinations.

Once you have fulfilled your experience requirement, you may enroll in a paramedic program. You may take courses in anatomy and physiology, patient assessment, airway management, advanced life support, pharmacology, cardiac emergencies and trauma. You will also need to complete a clinical internship working in a hospital and a field internship where you ride along in a paramedic unit. You must then obtain licensure from your state by either passing the NREMT exam for paramedics or a state exam. Most states have continuing education requirements and require that licensure be renewed every 2-3 years.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A related career is that of a firefighter. Firefighters require a postsecondary nondegree award. They put out fires and respond to various emergency situations. Another option is a career in law enforcement, since these professionals also respond to emergency situations. Police and detectives require at least a high school diploma. These professionals protect property and lives, serve the public and collect evidence in crimes.

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