Reflecting the growth of the healthcare sector overall, the field of paramedics and emergency medical technicians continues to expand. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 15% growth over the next decade, much higher than the national average for all industries. Now might be the opportune time to get an emergency medical technician (EMT) degree.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15% growth over the next decade, much higher than the national average for all industries.
Broadly speaking, EMTs help people with serious medical emergencies and provide life-saving care for patients being transported to hospitals. EMTs serve in exciting and dynamic workplaces, with each day a little different than the next. What's more, by learning new skills, EMTs can move into supervisory roles, increasing their responsibilities and potential to earn higher salaries.
This guide explores the best accredited EMT training programs across the country and what you can expect once enrolled.
Should I Get an EMT Associate Degree?
If you want to help people, have an interest in healthcare, and tend to remain calm in high-pressure situations, you may be a great candidate for an EMT associate degree. EMTs serve as critical healthcare professionals, assist people with medical emergencies, and administer procedures that keep patients alive until a physician or surgeon can take over. EMTs must also be able to think on their feet in various situations.
As you begin your research, consider online and on-campus options. An online EMT program may work best for working professionals who must meet considerable personal and professional obligations, while those seeking a degree immediately after high school may find that an on-campus experience better suits them.
Within an EMT program, you will learn how to administer numerous procedures, including physical exams, airway maintenance, manual defibrillation, and trauma assessment. You will also learn how to give medication, intravenous fluids, and oxygen to people with serious or life-threatening medical conditions.
In addition to acquiring these skills during an EMT program, you can network with fellow students and instructors to open up the possibility of career opportunities. As you near graduation, your program will help you secure internships and find entry-level jobs. Once you graduate, you'll have the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the job market and seek certification as a licensed EMT in your state.
What Can I Do With a Paramedic Associate Degree?
An EMT degree offers several career options, but to succeed in these settings, you'll need to think quickly and have a true interest in helping people in life-threatening situations. Below are the three top careers for those with an EMT associate degree:
- Emergency Medical Technician / Paramedic
EMTs provide emergency assistance to people suffering from a wide variety of illnesses and injuries. They must quickly make assessments, administer medical or intravenous drugs, and perform life-saving procedures like CPR and First Aid. They also know how to use many different medical tools and regularly maintain or restock equipment, supplies, and vehicles.
Median Annual Salary: $36,649
- Advanced Emergency Medical Technician
Similar to EMTs, these professionals must quickly assess injuries and illnesses and administer life-saving actions in a prehospital setting. However, they also have advanced medical knowledge and training that allows them to perform a greater variety of procedures. They also tend to have supervisory roles, such as overseeing other EMS professionals.
Median Annual Salary: $38,302
- Paramedic Supervisor
Serving as leaders of emergency medical teams, paramedic supervisors hire, onboard, and review the performance of their fellow EMTs and paramedics. They must ensure their team meets all relevant local, state, and federal compliance standards, while coordinating schedules. Paramedic supervisors typically administer life-saving procedures in emergency situations as well.
Median Annual Salary: $60,932
How to Choose an EMT Program
Thanks to the traditional and online EMT degrees available, you have no shortage of options when choosing a program.
First, consider the length of each program (i.e., how long it will take you to graduate). Some schools offer expedited programs that allow you to move toward your EMT degree quickly, even if you have numerous obligations outside of your coursework.
Second, explore the types of classes you'll take and your interest level toward them.
Third, ensure you can afford tuition. Online programs and public institutions tend to come with lower tuition, although some private schools offer competitive rates for associate degree programs. Colleges and universities offer a number of EMT programs and courses completely online.
Other factors to think about as you select a program: required internships or practicums, the school's accreditation status (avoid ones lacking regional or national accreditation), and campus location. If you need to live near a campus, look into the cost of living and transportation options.
Paramedic Program Admissions Requirements
The admissions process may look different for an online paramedic or EMT degree versus an on-campus program. Online programs tend to have more complex admissions processes than their traditional counterparts. Regardless, you should expect to provide your high school transcripts or GED scores, ACT or SAT scores, and a personal statement on why you wish to pursue emergency medical services as a career. Some programs also require one or more letters of recommendation.
We recommend applying for at least three paramedic or EMT programs to boost your chances of starting your program as soon as possible. Make a list of a dozen or so potential programs and narrow it to your three to five favorites. Apply to those programs you believe reflect the best matches for your needs, life circumstances, and career goals.
- Application: Applications usually take one to two hours to complete, depending on the materials required. Most are available online through CommonApp, a standardized application that more than 700 postsecondary institutions use.
- Transcripts: You can send transcripts by contacting your high school guidance counselor and/or any colleges you previously attended. While some schools provide transcripts for free, others require a small fee—usually between $5 and $10.
- Application Fee: These fees vary depending on the school, but you can generally expect to spend between $20 to $50. Many institutions waive this fee if you can demonstrate you have extenuating financial constraints.
Educational Paths for Paramedics
After receiving your EMT associate degree, you may explore transferring into a four-year program. In most cases, you can secure a bachelor's degree with just two more years of study.
An advanced degree opens up greater career opportunities. Payscale reports that while the average EMT makes about $13 per hour, EMT and paramedic supervisors make closer to $20 per hour. EMT-related bachelor's programs tend to have friendly transfer policies to welcome students who already have associate degrees.
- Emergency Medical Care
This EMT degree prepares students for leadership positions in emergency medicine and prehospital care, including supervisors, managers, and operations directors. Basic coursework covers subjects like EMS research, pharmacology, and the handling of hazardous materials. Most programs also involve examining more complex issues like EMS laws and regulations, disaster management, neonatal care, and emergency cardiology procedures.
- Emergency Medical Management
Rather than focusing on first responder procedures and training, an EMM bachelor's degree prepares students for leadership and management roles in both emergency and conventional healthcare settings. Students study issues related to disaster management, healthcare leadership, EMS management, healthcare law and policy, and even homeland security. EMM programs also tend to prioritize ethical issues and human resource management.
- Emergency Health Sciences
A bachelor's degree in emergency health sciences enables students to take a holistic view of the EMS field and move into more advanced roles and responsibilities. Students take courses on a wide variety of subjects, including pharmacology, EHS research, flight medicine, hazmat management, EMS budgeting and management, multicultural health, and human resource management.
What Will I Learn in an EMT Program?
The courses you take as part of your EMT associate degree may vary depending on your school or program. However, many courses are common to these degrees, as first responders generally must have the same skills and training no matter where they practice. The list below includes five common courses you'll find as you conduct your initial research:
- Emergency Medical Interventions
Students learn about basic life support skills and life-saving assessments and procedures. They also work with a paramedic to perform BLS activities, working through processes that require quick thinking, prioritization, and strong communication. The course serves as an introduction to more advanced study.
- Advanced Cardiac Care
This course focuses on assessing and resuscitating patients suffering from heart attacks and other cardiological issues. Students build their skills assisting victims of cardiac arrest, typically resulting in an American Heart Association Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification. Most jobs require this certification to serve as an EMT or paramedic.
- Pediatric Life Support
Through this course, students learn how to provide advanced life support care to children. It covers serious respiratory, cardiac, and other life-threatening conditions, along with training in ECG interpretation, cardiac medications, and the operation of manual defibrillators. Upon completing the course, students typically receive PALs certification through the American Heart Association.
- Operating Emergency Vehicles
Because driving ambulances and other emergency response vehicles represents an important part of EMTs' jobs, this course delivers practical skills and training in this area. Its curriculum typically meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation standards. Students learn how to drive, maintain, and equip these complex vehicles.
- Advanced Medical Life Support
Students take an extensive look into the study of medical emergencies and how first responders can provide the best possible care when transporting patients to a hospital. This may be one of the last courses a student takes, as it provides a cohesive overview of everything learned throughout the program. Students who successfully complete the course usually receive AMLS certification.
How Long Does It Take to Get an EMT Associate Degree?
If you attend school full time, you will likely be able to finish your EMT degree in two years or fewer. This may vary depending on the number of credits you take each term and if the program requires an internship or practicum, i.e., working with first responders in a real-world setting. Most EMT programs require 60 credit hours to graduate.
You may also take steps to reduce the time it takes to complete your EMT associate degree. On the one hand, some students take as many as credits as possible each semester, working hard in the short term so they can graduate quickly. On the other hand, some students take fewer credits if they foresee a hectic personal schedule.
Professional Organizations for Paramedics
In addition to earning an EMT degree, consider joining one or more professional organizations that serve emergency medical professionals. These groups offer opportunities for you to refine your craft, meet fellow EMTs, and find employment. Professional organizations provide continuing education, conferences, career services, and job boards. Here are three of the most popular:
NAEMT serves all EMS professionals, including EMTs, first responders, and paramedics. Founded in 1975, the organization offers advocacy, professional development, networking, and support for innovation and research in the field.
A union for EMS professionals, IAEP offers resources, contract negotiators, support staff, and legal assistance. It includes more than 10,000 members across the United States.
NEMSMA promotes excellence among emergency service supervisors by developing and sharing evidence-based best practices, offering continuing education, and advocating at the national level.