How Do EMTs and Paramedics Differ?

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  • EMTs and paramedics have different educational requirements leading to different outcomes.
  • Compared to EMTs, paramedics train for more advanced life-saving procedures.
  • Jobs for both EMTs and paramedics are projected to expand in the coming years.

More than a quarter of a million Americans worked as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics in 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for EMTs and paramedics to increase by 11% between 2020-2030. These front-line medical professionals perform critical tasks that can help people experiencing a medical emergency.

EMTs and paramedics typically work in ambulatory care settings. They are often the first ones on the scene of car wrecks, house fires, and other unexpected events that cause injuries. Becoming an EMT or paramedic requires individuals to participate in a postsecondary training program lasting 1-2 years.

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Prospective students considering the EMT or paramedic pathway can learn about the critical roles these professionals play. They can also see what it takes to become a licensed EMT or paramedic and how to begin their educational journey.

What Is an EMT?

Emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, work on the front lines of emergency medical services and are often the first medical professionals a person sees when they call 911. EMTs usually work in time-sensitive situations as part of an ambulance, helicopter, or firefighting team.

As first-care providers, EMTs assess their patients' injuries, transport them safely, and alert the nearest hospital of the patient's condition.While en route to the hospital, EMTs monitor patients' conditions and stabilize them. They know how to provide CPR, wound bandaging, and stabilizers to prevent further patient injury. Most EMTs complete a certificate program usually lasting 12 months alongside completing CPR certification. These roles do not require a degree, but EMTs must be licensed in all 50 states.

What Is a Paramedic?

Paramedics provide all the same services as EMTs. But they have advanced education that allow them to provide additional care in ambulatory settings while en route to the hospital. Generally considered to offer the same services as an emergency room, paramedics know more about medical topics and can perform more procedures than EMTs.

Like EMTs, paramedics typically work in ambulance services, and 911 or fire services routinely call them to scenes. Some of the services they can provide include bandaging, stabilizing conditions, delivering babies, and providing medication through IVs and infusions. They can also apply pacemakers and decompress collapsed lungs with chest needles.

Paramedics typically must complete an associate degree, which requires two years of full-time study. They must also seek licensure in their state.

Responsibilities of an EMT

  • Respond to medical emergency calls in a timely and professional manner.
  • Examine patients to determine their injuries and evaluate the type of care they require.
  • Provide available emergency care using sterile equipment and tools within the ambulance.
  • Transport patients to the nearest hospital and provide communication about their condition.
  • Stabilize patients with backboards or other types of braces to limit additional injury.
  • Maintain patient confidentiality and follow all policies regarding patient rights.
  • Keep ambulances stocked with all necessary emergency medical care supplies.

Responsibilities of a Paramedic

  • Drive an ambulance and use various types of equipment while also responding to emergency calls.
  • Oversee a team of EMTs responding to emergency services requests.
  • Evaluate patients to understand their conditions and develop a diagnosis.
  • Provide basic and advanced prehospital treatments, including giving CPR, inserting IVs, providing oxygen masks, and performing small surgical procedures.
  • Monitor the patient's condition when traveling to the hospital before transferring them to medical staff.
  • Write a report on each accident, providing concrete and detailed information about the patient, their injury, and treatments administered.

Education Requirements for EMTs and Paramedics

EMTs typically complete a non-degree certification program provided by their high school or a local community college or vocational school. These programs must incorporate at least 150 hours of training, though some programs include more training. Common courses include CPR for healthcare providers, supervised tutoring in emergency medical care, and individualized instruction in emergency medical technology.

After completing the required training, most states require individuals to complete the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam before applying for licensure.

Paramedics typically complete an associate degree. The curriculum often covers topics such as critical trauma care, advanced cardiac life support, and advanced pediatric care. They also participate in clinical and field experiences. Like EMTs, paramedics must pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians' paramedic exam and seek licensure in their state.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs provides a list of accredited EMT and paramedic programs to help students find great educational options.

Salary and Career Outlook for EMTs and Paramedics

According to the BLS, EMTs and paramedics earned median annual wages of $36,650 as of 2020. Those in the top 10% made salaries exceeding $62,150, while EMTs and paramedics in the lowest 10% earned less than $24,650.

The BLS projects jobs for these medical professionals to increase by 11% from 2020-2030, adding about 28,600 new positions to the field. In addition to new jobs, the BLS projects that about 20,700 jobs will open each year on average due to EMTs and paramedics moving to different roles or retiring.

How Do I Become an EMT or a Paramedic?

  1. Earn a high school or GED diploma: All EMT and paramedic educational programs require applicants to hold one of these credentials before gaining admittance.
  2. Earn CPR certification: Students can choose from online or in-person CPR certifications, such as basic life support for healthcare providers. Students should complete the correct CPR training for their educational requirements.
  3. Complete EMT/paramedic training: These training programs last between 1-2 years and result in a certificate or associate degree, depending on the qualification a student seeks. Students can find these programs in high schools, vocational schools, and community colleges.
  4. Pass a certification exam: Most states require applicants for licensure to pass an exam either for EMTs or paramedics administered through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. Some states may also require applicants to pass a state-specific certification.
  5. Pursue advanced training: After working in the field for several years, some EMTs upgrade their credentials to work as paramedics. Some paramedics may decide they want to move into another healthcare position, such as a registered nurse.

Frequently Asked Questions About EMTs and Paramedics

What does EMT stand for?

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EMT stands for emergency medical technician. These professionals work within the emergency medical services (EMS) field and typically spend about 12 months gaining the required education. After completing their EMT certification, passing a national exam, and earning a license from their state, EMTs can begin practicing in ambulatory medicine fields.

Is it better to be an EMT or paramedic?

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The answer to this question depends entirely on the individual. People looking to enter the field quickly may consider becoming an emergency medical technician because it requires less education than a paramedic. That said, paramedics take advanced educational programs to learn how to perform more in-depth procedures and services while stabilizing patients.

Students should carefully consider their expectations in pursuing this path. Those looking to build more experience and skills may decide becoming a paramedic is the best path, while those looking to join the field as quickly as possible may want to become an EMT.

Is there an age limit to becoming a paramedic or EMT?

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Nearly every state requires individuals to be at least 18 years old when working as a paramedic or EMT. But due to the educational requirements for both career paths, most applicants are already 18 years old by the time they're ready to become a paramedic or EMT.

Feature Image: Paul Burns / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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