Wilderness EMT: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a wilderness EMT. Learn about the job duties, education requirements, certification, salary, and job outlook 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 Is a Wilderness EMT?

A wilderness emergency medical technician (EMT) is an EMT who responds to medical emergencies in remote settings. For instance, they may work as part of rescue teams for injured hikers or avalanche victims. Depending on the nature of the emergency, they can offer a variety of services, including CPR or bandaging a wound. If a patient is being transported out of a wilderness area via helicopter, the EMT must carefully monitor the patient's vital signs, with a focus on the physiological changes that can occur at altitude, as well as the ventilation within the helicopter cab. After an incident, wilderness EMTs prepare reports, logging the nature of the emergency and the services provided.

The table below provides an outline of the general requirements for this career.

Training Required Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training program
Key Responsibilities Manage and treat altitude and heat illness, manage cold injuries, perform wilderness CPR, manage wilderness wounds and allergies
Licensure/Certification Required Employers require EMT certification. All states require EMT licensure.
Job Growth (2014-2014) 24% for all EMTs and Paramedics*
Median Salary (2015) $31,980 for EMTs and Paramedics*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Type of Training Do I Need to Become a Wilderness EMT?

Several postsecondary schools offer wilderness first aid and wilderness first responder courses for those who spend a lot of time outdoors or lead outdoor groups. However, if you want to work as a wilderness EMT, you'll need to complete an approved EMT training program. EMTs are employed at three levels - basic, intermediate and paramedic - and each level requires a separate training program.

Wilderness EMT is a specialized position that requires training beyond EMT-Basic and involves caring for patients in remote settings. Some schools offer comprehensive wilderness EMT programs that meet national registry curriculum standards for EMT-Basic or higher; others offer shorter 'upgrade' wilderness courses designed to build upon previous EMT training. If you've already completed the necessary training to become an EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate or paramedic, an upgrade program allows you to complete wilderness EMT training in as little as five days.

What Will I Study?

A wilderness EMT program, whether upgrade or full, is designed to prepare you to work in remote areas where access to medical care and equipment is scarce. This could include remote job posts, search and rescue operations, wilderness expeditions and disaster response teams.

You'll learn how to provide emergency care in challenging environments by improvising with equipment and making decisions with confidence. Specific topics of study might include altitude and heat illnesses, cold injuries, wilderness CPR, wilderness wound management and allergies. You'll also learn about common wilderness medical problems, such as poisoning, bites and stings. Because the nearest medical center may be many miles away from a remote care setting, your training will also focus on prolonged patient care, or keeping patients alive until you can get them to a medical facility.

Upgrade programs generally last five days, or 45 hours, whereas full wilderness EMT programs typically include 200 hours at minimum. Wilderness training is likely to be intense and involve lots of hands-on learning, which could include case studies and treating mock patients in practical scenarios. Because you need to be prepared to work in all types of conditions, part of your training takes place outdoors, even in harsh weather conditions.

Do I Need Certification or Licensure?

To work as any type of EMT, you need certification. If you're already an EMT, completing an approved wilderness upgrade program qualifies you to become certified as a wilderness EMT. This typically requires passing both practical and written exams. Certification is valid for two years, at which point continuing education may be required. If you aren't currently an EMT, you can qualify to become a certified wilderness EMT by either completing a full wilderness EMT program or by completing an approved EMT training program and an upgrade program.

All 50 states also require you to gain licensure to work as an EMT. Most states require you to pass the national registry exam offered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). However, check with your state board for specifics, because requirements for wilderness EMTs may vary.

How Much Could I Earn?

Wage data for wilderness EMTs is scarce, but you might expect to earn a median salary of $31,980 per year as an EMT, based on EMT and paramedic wage estimates reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, in May 2014 (www.bls.gov). However, the BLS-reported mean annual earnings for EMTs were considerably higher ($47,010-$58,370) in non-metropolitan areas of Washington and Alaska, where one might assume wilderness training would be applicable. In addition to location, your wage is likely to depend upon your experience and the level of training you've accomplished. The BLS also reports that the job outlook for all EMTs and paramedics between 2014 and 2024 is expected to be much faster than average, at 24%.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

For a slower-paced job, you could consider becoming a medical assistant. They work in hospital or clinical settings, and their work involves a combination of office administration and basic patient care, such as assisting with patient examinations and recording vital signs. The minimum educational requirement is a postsecondary certificate. Alternatively, if you are looking to work in emergency services, you could consider a job as a dispatcher. Dispatchers answer 911 calls and respond to automatic alarm systems by sending out emergency personnel, such as EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and/or police offers. They need to have at least a high school diploma.

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