EMT & Paramedic

When someone calls 911 in need of emergency medical care, EMTs and paramedics are the first to arrive on the scene. Medical emergencies from car accidents to allergic reactions to heart attacks all require the swift care of professionals trained to handle crises.

EMTs and paramedics have received extensive training on how to provide emergency care to individuals and transport them safely to the hospital. EMTs can provide first aid, administer auto-injectors such as epi-pens, assist with breathing treatments, stop external bleeding, and stabilize broken bones. Paramedics have received further training that allows them to open airways, provide breathing assistance through ventilation, administer medications, and even deliver babies in emergency situations. Professionals in this field also possess the skills to stay calm under extreme stress and problem solve complicated scenarios.

Growth for this career is steady with an anticipated seven percent increase each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) reports that between 2018 and 2028, there will be 18,700 new EMT and paramedics jobs across the country—a 7 percent increase. Professionals in this field can expect to earn a median annual salary of $34,320.

Continue reading to learn more about what it takes to become an EMT or paramedic, what common job duties are, top programs in the field, and licensing requirements.

EMT & Paramedic Specializations & Degree Types

There are three levels of EMTs, each with progressively longer training and more job responsibilities. Those levels are emergency medical responder (EMR), emergency medical technician (EMT), and advanced emergency medical technician (AEMT).

From there, professionals can pursue certification as a paramedic, as most paramedic programs require prospective students to already hold an EMT certification prior to enrolling in the program. There are some programs where the EMT and paramedic certifications can be earned consecutively.

EMT programs generally issue certificates, whereas paramedic programs are more in-depth studies which may result in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. There are also wilderness emergency medical technician programs (WEMT) for professionals who wish to work in the backcountry.

Admissions Requirements for EMT & Paramedic Programs

Admission requirements for paramedic courses are more stringent than those for EMT courses. EMT courses generally require students to have graduated from high school or have obtained a GED and hold a CPR certification. Often a background check is required and some programs require proof of immunizations and a current negative tuberculosis test.

Paramedic programs require proof of current EMT or AEMT certification along with a high school diploma or GED. Proof of immunizations and a current negative tuberculosis test are often required as well. Some programs ask prospective students to complete a physical test to prove they can perform the duties of a paramedic. CPR certification (or the more advanced basic life support certification) is typically required as well.

EMT & Paramedic Program Accreditation

EMT and Paramedic programs are accredited through the Committee on Accreditation for the EMS Professions (CoAEMSP), which is recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Students should ensure the programs they enroll in are accredited as this guarantees a minimum standard of education, as well as often meeting the state education requirements for licensure.

On-Campus EMT & Paramedic Degree Programs

Oregon Institute of Technology & Oregon Health Sciences University

The only paramedic program in Oregon offered at the university level is found at the Oregon Institute of Technology, in partnership with Oregon Health Sciences University. This two-year program results in an associate degree in applied science (AAS). As part of the degree, students also earn the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and Prehospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS) certifications.

Students have the unique opportunity to participate in hands-on cadaver labs in addition to classroom courses such as anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and EMT basics. Throughout the course of study, students participate in clinical rotations gaining hands-on experience in the field. The program culminates in a 12-week externship with a local agency.

  • Location: Wilsonville, OR
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon the recommendation of the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Professions (CoAEMSP)
  • Tuition: $620.58 per credit hour

Santa Rosa Junior College

The rigorous paramedic academy at Santa Rosa Junior College begins once a year in late August and takes 12 to 15 months to complete. Students are expected to already have hands-on EMT experience prior to admission. A one-day course to assess suitability for the career is also required and is completed in May.

From the start of the program, clinical rotations are held alongside classroom sessions. Throughout the program, students are expected to attend 16 hours of classroom learning in addition to completing 32 to 40 hours of study per week. Students are strongly encouraged to limit their work and family obligations while enrolled in this intensive course.

  • Location: Santa Rosa, CA
  • Duration: Twelve to 15 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon the recommendation of the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Professions (CoAEMSP)
  • Tuition: $16,000 for the program

Online or Hybrid EMT & Paramedic Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of EMT and paramedic programs, there are no completely online courses. However, there are courses that provide hybrid formats. Two such programs are:

Lenoir Community College

The paramedic academy at Lenoir Community College requires only 11 onsite weekend labs. The rest of the course is done online and through clinical rotations in the students’ own community. This program is open to residents of California, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia.

Courses offered as part of this program include anatomy and physiology, basic crisis negotiation, and special needs patients. Applicants are required to have already obtained EMT certification prior to enrolling. Proof of completion of college-level math and English courses are also required.

  • Location: Kinston, NC
  • Duration: Ten months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon the recommendation of the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Professions (CoAEMSP)
  • Tuition: $318.65 per credit-hour

Iowa Western Community College

At Iowa Western Community College students can complete all of their paramedic classroom hour requirements online. Lab hours still need to be completed on campus, but there are day and evening options available making the program accessible to working professionals or those with family obligations. There are four required in-person courses (two days each) to obtain various life support certifications.

Outside of the lab, certification courses, and online learning, students are expected to complete an average of 12 internship hours each week. Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the national certification exam. For the past three years, 100 percent of graduates have found work as paramedics.

  • Location: Council Bluffs, IA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon the recommendation of the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Professions (CoAEMSP)
  • Tuition: $7,495 for the entire course

How Long Does it Take to Become an EMT & Paramedic?

EMT certification can be obtained in less than a year, post-high school graduation, depending on the intensity of the chosen program. Paramedics can expect their secondary education to take one to two years to complete, but it can be up to four years if they are completing a bachelor’s degree as part of their studies.

How To Become an EMT & Paramedic – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Most EMT courses require students to have completed high school or obtained a GED. Students interested in pursuing a career as an EMT or paramedic can take courses such as health, anatomy, biology, and psychology to prepare them for further studies. Additionally, many EMT programs have a minimum high school GPA requirement so students should ensure their grades are up to par.

Step 2: Enroll in an EMT Program (Six Months to Two Years)

EMT programs are found at community and technical colleges across the country. Programs take anywhere from six months to two years to complete depending on the intensity of the course. There are numerous programs that offer night and weekend options to accommodate work and family obligations. Students should ensure the program they enroll in meets their state licensure requirements.

Step 3: Obtain Certification as an EMT (Timelines Vary)

Upon completion of an eligible EMT course, students are eligible to apply for the national certification through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Certification requirements include holding a current CPR certificate and passing the National Registry knowledge and a state-approved skills exams. While not all states require NREMT certification, most do and it is a highly recommended step towards licensure.

Step 4: Apply for State EMT Licensure (Timelines Vary)

Certification by the NREMT does not permit professionals to work as EMTs. A separate application to the state licensing board is required in order to actively work in this profession. Requirements vary by state and applicants should check with their local board to ensure they meet all the requirements.

Step 5: Attend a Paramedic Program (One to Four Years)

A current EMT certification (and sometimes work experience) is a prerequisite to most paramedic programs. Paramedic programs provide between 1,000 to 2,000 hours of instruction and training in advanced life support, anatomy and physiology, and emergency management. Often students will complete either an associate or bachelor’s degree as part of their studies. In order to apply for certification through NREMT, the program must be CAAHEP-accredited.

Step 6: Obtain Paramedic Certification (Timelines Vary)

Certification for paramedics is issued through NREMT. Requirements include completing a CAAHEP-accredited paramedic education program, current EMT certification, current CPR certification, and passing the NREMT knowledge and skills tests. If the education program was completed more than two years ago, proof of a refresher course is also required.

Step 7: Apply for State Paramedic Licensure (Timelines Vary)

Licensure for paramedics is issued on a state by state basis. Most states require NREMT certification as part of their licensure requirements. Applicants should contact their local licensing board to verify state requirements.

What Do EMTs & Paramedics Do?

In an emergency situation, the first professionals on the scene are typically EMTs or paramedics. Typical job duties for both professions include:

  • Responding to 911 calls for emergency medical attention
  • Performing CPR
  • Bandaging wounds
  • Stabilizing broken bones
  • Transporting patients to the hospital
  • Administering epi-pens
  • Performing glucose blood tests
  • Providing oxygen
  • Assisting with breathing treatments for asthma attacks or allergic reactions
  • Maintaining medical records

Additionally, paramedics can:

  • Start IVs
  • Administer emergency medications
  • Deliver babies in an emergency
  • Open airways for patients who cannot breathe
  • Provide breathing support with ventilation and tubes

EMT & Paramedic Certifications & Licensure

Certification for EMA, EMTs, AEMT, and paramedics is done through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Certification is dependent on the successful completion of an approved program, current CPR certification, and passing the knowledge and skills exams. Licensure is done on a state by state basis and requirements vary. However, all states require some level of training and examination.

How Much Do EMT & Paramedics Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2018), the 257,210 EMTs and paramedics around the United States earn $37,760 per year on average. The top 90 percent of earners make $58,640 (or more), while the lowest 10 percent earn $22,760 (or less).

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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