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When accidents happen or people become seriously ill, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics come to help. Every day, these healthcare professionals respond to emergency situations. They work to save lives as they:
- respond to emergency calls
- transport patients to medical facilities
- provide urgently needed medical care
If you’re interested in a career as an EMT, pursue postsecondary training. Get an education in medical technology. Both are essential to acquiring the skills and knowledge you need to make a difference. Below, we discuss important information on becoming an EMT, from career options to the best degrees for EMTs.
How Do You Become an EMT?
Becoming an EMT requires training and licensing. EMTs typically complete a postsecondary educational program. EMT school takes place at:
- community colleges
- facilities that specialize in emergency response care
- technical schools or institutes
As a high-school student interested in becoming an EMT, you should take courses that lay a foundation to build on. Courses like anatomy and physiology serve as preparation for an EMT program. During high school, it’s important to earn the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. CPR certification is required to enter a postsecondary program in EMT.
The next step in becoming an EMT is to complete an EMT program. These programs can be completed at a community college or technical school, as well as at a state university. They take about one year to complete. However, some programs may last two years. The two-year programs often lead to associate’s degrees, which can be beneficial for advancement in an EMT career.
What Degree Does an EMT Need?
The typical EMT degree is a two-year associate’s degree. However, a degree is not required for this career path. Instead, training and licensing is required. All states require paramedics and EMTs to be licensed to work in their occupation. Requirements vary by state.
Education for EMTs
To develop the skills needed to use emergency medical technology effectively, aspiring EMTs must complete a postsecondary EMT education program at:
- a community college
- technical school,
- other institution
First, you must have earned a high-school diploma, as well as a CPR certification. These are the basic EMT education requirements . There is no age requirement for taking a CPR course, and the course may be completed in person or online. CPR training is available through the American Red Cross.
Once an aspiring EMT has earned both a diploma and CPR certification, they can enroll in an emergency medical technology program. These programs may last between one and two years. They are non-degree programs, which means that there is no diploma awarded upon completion. However, aspiring paramedics, who have more extensive responsibilities than EMTs, often need to earn an associate’s degree.
EMT Schooling and Training
In an emergency medical technology program, you will spend approximately 150 hours with instructors, some in hospitals or ambulances. You will learn how to:
- evaluate patients’ conditions
- manage trauma and heart emergencies
- clear airways
- use medical equipment
The more advanced an emergency responder’s position is, the more education they need. The education required to become an Advanced EMT spans 300 hours and covers the use of:
- intravenous (IV) fluids
- certain medications
- more complex devices for opening airways
Paramedics will spend 1,200 hours learning more complex skills, such as how to administer IV fluids and how to stitch up wounds.
Best Degrees for EMTs
If you want to earn a four-year degree before becoming an EMT, you can. Earning a degree may even improve your job prospects and help you advance in your career. In fact, a degree to become an EMT can be extremely valuable to your career. Below are some of the best degrees for EMTs:
An emergency management bachelor’s degree prepares students for careers in safety and emergency management services. Students gain skills in:
- emergency preparedness
- risk assessment
- staff management
They learn about human behavior during times of crisis. Typical programs in emergency management take four years to complete.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
Four-year bachelor’s in EMS programs are designed for paramedics and EMTs. They’re designed to meet the educational needs of practicing paramedics through coursework in basic sciences and leadership. Common courses include:
- Advanced emergency medical services
- Critical care
- Emergency medical technician
- EMS disaster medicine
- EMS special operations
- Wilderness medicine
A four-year bachelor’s degree in public health prepares students with a strong foundation in biological and social sciences. Courses may include topics such as:
- biological concepts of public health
- healthcare delivery systems
- population health
A bachelor’s degree in safety management is a four-year degree that helps graduates meet safety challenges in different regulatory environments. Typically, these programs are designed for active-duty military and working professionals. This an ideal discipline for aspiring EMTs. Courses cover topics like the following:
- Disaster policy and management
- Fire protection
- Fundamentals of emergency management
- Introduction to research methods
- System safety management
EMT Licenses and Certifications
Every state requires EMTs to attain licenses. Often, this means earning certification through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). This comes after completing an emergency medical technology education program and passing both the practical and written components of a test. Some states may also require candidates to take an additional examination to earn their licenses. Other first responders, like firefighters, may also need to attain EMT certification to work in emergency services.
What Does It Take to Be an EMT?
EMTs and paramedics have the opportunity to save lives every day they’re on the job. The postsecondary education required to attain an EMT position is necessary for teaching the practical skills to rescue, transport and stabilize patients in urgent need of medical care. The job is challenging, requiring a combination of:
- physical strength
- problem-solving skills
It’s challenging and highly rewarding.
In addition to the necessary credentials and licensing to work as an EMT, you must possess other important qualities. As stated above, being a compassionate person in good physical health helps you succeed on the job. Other skills and attributes necessary to work as an EMT include:
- Good listening skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Speaking skills
EMTs and other types of emergency responders make an important difference to their patients and their communities.
How Long Does It Take to Become an EMT?
Most non-degree EMT programs take one to two years to complete. If you’re seeking an associate’s degree, plan on spending two years in school to obtain your degree and training to become an EMT. Bachelor’s degree programs take four years to complete, though they are not necessary to become an EMT. In fact, no degree is required to work as an EMT.
How to Become an EMT Without a Degree
If you’re considering becoming an EMT but don’t want to earn a degree, you’re in luck. You won’t be able to land a job without training, but you don’t need to earn a degree to qualify for employment. Many individuals become EMTs and paramedics without a college degree.
A high-school diploma and CPR certification are required for most non-degree awarding EMT programs. These programs offer the fastest route to becoming an EMT. In some states, aspiring paramedics can also complete a non-degree program to qualify for employment, though some areas may require an associate’s degree. The typical non-degree awarding EMT program takes one year or less to complete. However, some programs may last up to two years. These programs are often available at community colleges and technical schools. Some colleges and universities or facilities that offer emergency care training also offer non-degree programs for EMTs.
For a list of accredited EMT programs, you can visit the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Programs are listed by state, providing a convenient search tool for those seeking non-degree awarding and accredited EMT programs. Currently, there are over 570 accredited diploma or certificate programs listed by the CAAHEP for EMTs and paramedics.
How Much Money Does an EMT Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), EMTs make an average wage that is slightly less than the total average for all occupations. As of last year, the median annual wage for EMTs and paramedics was $36,650. The lowest 10% of earners made less than $25,000. The highest 10% of earners made over $62,000 per year. Of note, the average earnings for all occupations is $41,950, and the average for health technicians is $45,610, according to BLS.
However, depending on where you work, you may be able to make more money. BLS reports three top-paying industries for EMTs where the highest wages are earned. Two of the top three industries offer higher-than-average earnings. The top-paying industries are:
Local, private, and state hospitals: $38,640
Local government, excluding education and hospitals: $38,580
Ambulance services: $34,250
Other factors that impact earnings include geographic location. This means that EMTs working in certain areas of the country earn higher wages, according to BLS. Certain states, metro areas, and non-metro areas also offer higher wages. Also, many of these areas offer significantly higher wages than the national average. States that offer high wages for EMTs include:
- Hawaii: $58,580
- Washington: $56,910
- Maryland: $53,440
- Alaska: $50,030
- California: $48,280
The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data published by BLS also offers information on high-paying metropolitan areas. According to BLS, certain metro areas offer high wages for EMTs. In some areas, EMTs earn over twice the national average of $36,650. These include:
- Olympia-Tumwater, Washington: $83,930
- Mount Vernon-Anacortes, Washington: $74,170
- Bellingham, Washington: $65,850
- Bremerton-Silverdale, Washington: $61,820
- Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington: $59,380
- Hammond, Louisiana: $59,130
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $58,880
- Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, California: $58,400
- Urban Honolulu, Hawaii: $58,160
- Salinas, California: $56,750
But, you don’t have to live in a metro area to earn high wages as an EMT or paramedic. Lower costs of living draw EMTs to non-metropolitan areas offering higher-than-average wages. Some of the top-paying non-metro areas include:
- Northeast Louisiana non-metro area: $66,370
- Alaska non-metro area: $59,130
- Massachusetts non-metro area: $55,560
- Northwest Colorado non-metro area: $48,070
- Western Washington non-metro area: $47,550
The above non-metro areas offer higher-than-average earnings, but they have lower costs of living than some of the top-paying metropolitan areas.
What Is the Job Outlook for EMTs?
Now that you’re aware of what EMT education requirements are needed to land a job, it’s important to familiarize yourself with other aspects of the career. The job outlook is the projected change in employment for a particular occupation over time. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers this information for EMTs and paramedics.
In fact, the most recent information published by BLS reports an expected employment growth of 11 percent for EMTs and paramedics over the next decade. Since the average employment growth for all occupations is eight percent, growth for EMTs is faster.
According to BLS, approximately 20,700 openings for EMTs and paramedics are projected each year over the next decade. Most openings will result from the growing need to replace workers who retire or exit the labor force.
Car crashes, acts of violence, and natural disasters will continue, and EMTs and paramedics will be needed. BLS reports that rural areas and small cities will continue needing emergency medical services.
Another factor impacting a favorable job growth for EMTs is the growth of the middle-aged and older population. As these people age, they may experience age-related health issues and emergencies. The numbers of strokes and heart attacks will continue to rise. This will spur demand for EMTs and paramedic services. With a favorable job outlook, now is an ideal time to consider becoming an EMT.
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