Emergency Medical Tech Careers

An EMT needs training—and the ability to keep calm in a crisis.

The Basics

EMT helping someone

What you'll do:
 You'll provide on-the-scene, immediate medical care to patients in emergency situations such as automobile accidents or heart attacks. You'll work to stabilize the sick or injured person and then transport them to a medical facility. You must know how to assess an emergency scene, control bleeding, apply splints, assist with childbirth, administer oxygen and perform CPR and other basic life support skills.

Where you'll work: You'll work in an ambulance or similar vehicle, hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms

Degree you'll need: High school diploma or GED and a certificate, diploma or associate's degree from an accredited EMT program

Median annual salary: $31,020*

To earn certification as an EMT-paramedic, you'll first need EMT I-Basic certification. Most EMT/paramedic programs are 2-year associate's degree programs, which require extensive coursework and clinical training. Paramedics (EMT-paramedic) have the most training and expansive scope of authorized activities. They administer more emergency medications and perform a wide variety of other procedures.

An EMT-I may assist a patient with the administration of the patient's prescribed nitroglycerin or hand-held inhaler.

An EMT I-Basic program will provide you with plenty of hands-on experience in how to perform the following procedures:

Physical exams Assess trauma
Administer oxygen Perform airway maintenance
Semi-automatic defibrillation Administer medication

Intermediate level EMTs (EMT-II and EMT-III) have more advanced EMT training which allows them to administer intravenous fluids, use manual defibrillators to give lifesaving shocks to a stopped heart, and use advanced airway techniques and equipment to assist patients experiencing respiratory emergencies.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Certification

EMTs need to be certified or registered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians in all states. However, some states administer their own certification examination and provide the option of taking the NRMET examination. To maintain certification, EMTs and paramedics must re-register every two years.

EMT Training Requirements

Woman giving a man CPR

Before you can enroll in school to earn your EMT-Basic certification, you'll need to meet certain EMT training requirements. Typically, students must:

  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be CPR-certified
  • Have the ability to lift more than 100 pounds
  • Pass a criminal background check and drug test

Depending on the program, you may need to present college placement test scores in reading, writing and math.

It's a standard requirement that students have up-to-date immunizations before enrolling in certificate and degree programs, but it's especially important for EMT students. During your clinical experience, you could be exposed to various diseases or illnesses.

Although most programs don't list science classes as an EMT training requirement, it can be helpful to take an EMT preparation course if you want to brush up on basic medical terminology and anatomy. These classes are also useful for current EMTs who need to fulfill continuing education units.

EMT Schools

EMT schools are located throughout the country. You can find programs at many technical and community colleges.

Since there are so many options, here are a few things to look for when deciding between EMT schools.

  • Accreditation: In order to take state and national certification exams, you must be earn your credentials from an accredited EMT school. Look for the seal of approval from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
  • Schedule: EMT programs are designed for people who are working a day job, but want to finish school quickly. Two weeknights and a weekend day is a common class schedule.
  • Equipment: The equipment and supplies you use as EMT are integral to the job. Look for an EMT school with state-of-the-art tools, such as new cardiac rhythm simulators, so you can provide the best care to patients.
  • Instructor credentials: Students benefit from having instructors who are EMTs, physicians or other trained medical staff. For example, an anesthesiologist giving a lecture and demonstration on airway management can provide much better instruction than any textbook ever could.

EMT Basic Training

Training to be an EMT

EMT basic training is the first step toward starting a career in emergency medical services. The program you choose will be designed based on national standards as well as state requirements. Basic training is also a prerequisite if you decide to become an EMT-Intermediate or paramedic.

EMT-Basic programs take less than a year to complete; instruction is done in classrooms, labs and in the field.

In the classroom, you'll learn the fundamentals about emergency care, including how to transport patients.

You'll also put your new knowledge to the test during lab instruction. Students are expected to demonstrate strong critical thinking skills and an ability to assess a patient's condition quickly and accurately.

Some schools will also include a clinical requirement which allows you to interact with patients in real-life scenarios. Clinical experience may also be referred to as a "ride-along" which is when you spend time on an ambulance learning from EMTs working their shift.

Upon the successful completion of EMT basic training, you'll be ready to take the national certification exam administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

EMT Training Online

There aren't many EMT training online courses primarily because of the hands-on nature of the job and the short amount of time it takes to complete a program. In fact, some schools specifically point out that an EMT certificate program is not a full-time commitment.

If you're looking for an online component, there are EMT hybrid programs. Topics that are traditionally taught in the classroom are provided online, allowing students to work at their own pace. In order to gain hands-on training, students are still required to attend labs in person.

What you can expect with an EMT training online course:
Required readings Discussions with students and instructors
Timed modules Exams and quizzes

Each program is different, but online topics may include EMT legal issues, communication and safety.

EMT Certification Training

EMTs saving a life

The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) is the certifying agency for EMTs and paramedics. Once you complete EMT certification training, you'll be required to pass written and practical exams.

NREMT certifies emergency medical professionals at different levels: EMT, AEMT (Advanced) and Paramedic. In order to become a paramedic, you first need to work as an EMT.

EMT certification training will teach you about Basic Life Support (BLS)—pre-hospital care for life-threatening injuries and illnesses—and will prepare you to work in an ambulance equipped with airway and breathing equipment as well as supplies for trauma care and certain OTC medications.

Advanced EMT training builds on EMT-B knowledge and teaches students about more complex pharmacological interventions.

Paramedics undergo more intense training than EMTs; they're qualified to provide I.V. support, spinal injury management and burn management, among other duties.

EMT Training Cost

As you begin searching for the right school, the EMT training cost will likely be a concern. Since the programs are short in length, and offered at local technical and community colleges, you'll find expenses to be lower than if you were to enroll in a two- or four-year degree program.

Be aware of additional expenses, however. Besides tuition and fees, EMT training costs may also include supplies, such as bandage scissors, CPR barriers, stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff. The EMT training program you choose will provide you with a list of items you'll need, but it's a good idea to budget for these added costs.

Another expense to consider is health insurance. Most EMT schools will require that you have coverage before enrolling.

EMT Salary

Top 10% of EMTs earn more than %53,550. $31,020 is the median EMT salary.

The median annual EMT salary is $31,020, but there is room for growth. According to the BLS, the top 10 percent earn more than $53,550.

A number of variables impact an EMT salary, such as geographic location and type of employer. Private ambulance companies tend to pay lower than government agencies.

Is your state one of the better-paying locations for EMTs?
Here are the top five:
Washington: $57,850
District of Columbia: $56,390
Hawaii: $48,970
Illinois: $47,580
Alaska: $46,430

EMT salaries are often higher in urban areas compared to rural areas. For instance, in the Seattle metropolitan area, EMTs earn an annual median salary of $63,890 whereas EMTs in the Northwestern Washington non-metropolitan area earn $58,670.

The job outlook for EMTs and paramedics is a positive one. Through 2022, employment is expected to grow 23 percent, which is much faster than average. Unexpected medical emergencies, ranging from car accidents to natural disasters, will always require EMTs and paramedics, there are other factors contributing to job growth.

As the population gets older, age-related emergencies will increase leading to a greater need for emergency medical personnel.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook; EMTs and Paramedics

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.