So You Want to Be an EMT?


In the late 60s, emergency medical transportation changed radically. Ambulances morphed from station wagons with a bed in the back driven by untrained funeral home staff into rolling emergency rooms with trained medics on board. Training programs and certifications were developed for front-line emergency medical technicians that continue to be updated along with the rapid advances in medical technology that have occurred over the past quarter century.

What You Need to Know:

  1. The title EMT encompasses 3 to 5 levels of certification depending on the state in which you certify. The EMT certification begins with EMT-Basic and ends with the EMT-Paramedic level. Classes are offered through junior and community colleges, technical schools and universities. EMT classes are often scheduled so that working students can attend. Basic level classes can be taken in as little as two weeks. Paramedic certification is usually taught as an associate degree. Before you even get started, you need a high school diploma or GED.
  1. Pay levels for EMTs depend on many different factors. Level of certification has a lot to do with your level of pay. Lower level EMTs, especially in rural or small town systems often receive pay that’s not much above minimum wage levels. Larger systems, especially in urban areas often pay more. In emerging systems, jobs are more secure and may pay more in order to attract qualified EMTs. Paramedic level EMTs in many systems make more money than firemen or policemen. Cops or firefighters often add EMT training to their skills set in order to boost their pay.
  1. EMT work tends to be flexible with opportunity to make extra money. Many EMT shifts are 24-hour on-call days with 3 to 5 days off per week. This allows EMTs to take extra shifts with other systems, effectively doubling their salaries. EMT work tends to be long periods of inactivity punctuated by sudden spurts of excitement. This kind of on-call shift work makes it easier for EMTs to work more hours, but also means long stretches away from families when you do. Divorce is a big problem for EMTs so it’s a good idea to manage your work so your time off is optimized for your family if you have one.
  1. EMTs have to hone their skills constantly. Medical technology continues to advance at breath-taking speed. EMTs and paramedics have to be able to assess the nature of a patient’s condition using the latest tools and techniques. They have to be able to collect data quickly on the nature of the patient’s illness or injury, pre-existing medical conditions and current medications and treatments. EMT’s follow protocols and guidelines, provide emergency care and transport, work with physicians and nurses and show up at everything from disasters, car accidents and heart attacks to forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. You have to deal with bleeding, fractures, childbirth, cardiac arrest and airway obstructions. You have to know how to use and maintain suction devices, splints, oxygen systems, stretchers, backboards and defibrillators. As new equipment comes online you will have to constantly train to use it.
  1. Physical and psychological qualifications for an EMT are rigid. EMTs and paramedics need to be emotionally stable. Physically you need good manual dexterity and sufficient agility and physical strength to lift and move patients from difficult to reach places. You need good eyesight, correctable to 20/20 with corrective lenses and accurate color vision. You may have to pass a criminal background check in many emergency medical systems.
  1. EMTs and paramedics do have room for advancement beyond the field operations of emergency response systems and firehouses. EMT-Paramedics, especially, have opportunities to become shift supervisors, operations managers, unit directors, or executive directors of emergency response services. With experience and training, EMTs and paramedics can become dispatchers or instructors. Many go on to train as physician’s assistants or go into sales or marketing with their own companies or with emergency medical equipment manufacturers. The EMT track also can provide an income stream for those training to become registered nurses, physicians, radiologists or medical tech workers.


For more EMT knowledge, go to our EMT Resources page” EMT Resources should be hyperlinked to

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