What Does an EMT/Paramedic Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows two EMTs checking on a young boy who looks ill. Text reads:

Image by Bailey Mariner © The Balance 2019

Anyone who suddenly becomes ill or is injured must receive medical treatment immediately. Emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics are trained to administer on-site emergency care. They assess the patient's injuries or illness, provide emergency treatment, and transport the patient to a medical facility for further treatment.

There were approximately 248,000 EMTs and paramedics working in the U.S. in 2016. Roughly half were employed by ambulance services, with another quarter in local government. About 18% work in state and local hospitals.

EMT/Paramedic Duties & Responsibilities

The duties of EMTs and paramedics often overlap, but paramedics are trained to deliver more advanced care than EMTs are authorized to administer. Some common duties include:

  • Verify that the assigned ambulance is mechanically sound and properly equipped at the start of a shift.
  • Evaluate the nature and acuity of the illness or injury.
  • Establish patient care priorities.
  • Provide medical care and transportation for patients.
  • Foster and maintain professional relationships with other providers, staff, and patients.

It's important for EMTs to be comfortable with multi-tasking. During a call for assistance, EMTs must communicate with dispatchers over a two-way radio, while navigating to incidents using maps and mobile data terminals.

After responding to and handling and incident, they must be able to complete Patient Care Transport reports completely and thoroughly. Additionally, these workers must maintain familiarity with emergency and pre-hospital medical care by constantly keeping up to date with the latest practices.

EMT/Paramedic Salary

An EMT/paramedic's pay can depend somewhat on geographic location and employer, whether they work in the government sector or for a private employer.

  • Median Annual Salary: $34,320 ($16.5 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $58,640 ($28.19/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $22,760 ($10.94/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

Although education requirements aren't necessarily stringent, training and licensing requirements can be a challenge.

  • Education: A high school diploma is required before beginning training to become an EMT. Paramedics' training can include an associate degree.
  • Training: There are three levels of training for those who want to work in this field: EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate, and Paramedic. Coursework at the EMT-Basic level consists of emergency skills and patient assessment. Students being trained at the EMT-Intermediate level learn how to use advanced airway devices and administer intravenous fluids and some medications. Paramedics receive the most advanced training which may result in an associate degree. The coursework at this level includes anatomy, physiology, and advanced medical skills.
  • Licensing: The applicant must be licensed to work as an EMT or paramedic. Requirements vary by state, but most states require EMTs and paramedics to pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam. Generally, licenses must be renewed every two to three years.
  • Certification: Some states have their own certification exams which EMTs and paramedics must pass to practice.

Learn more about licensing requirements in your state using ​Licensed Occupations Tool at CareerOneStop.

EMT/Paramedic Skills & Competencies

In addition to formal training and a license, this position requires certain soft skills and personal qualities to succeed in this occupation.

  • Strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills: These allow an EMT or paramedic to quickly evaluate various solutions to problems and choose the one that has the best chance of resulting in a positive outcome.
  • Excellent listening and speaking skills: Topnotch communication skills let the EMT or paramedic receive information from and convey it to the patient and others on the scene.
  • Physical stamina: This job requires a lot of lifting and bending, so they must be physically fit.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for EMTs and paramedics will grow much faster than the national average for all occupations through 2026. Job growth is expected to be at about 15% because events like natural disasters and manmade emergencies aren't likely to decrease, and some emergencies can be expected to increase as America's population ages. This compares to 7% job growth for all occupations.

According to a 2019 CNBC News article, EMTs and paramedics are in short supply, as healthcare jobs keep growing to meet the demands of the aging baby-boomer generation. This is good news for applicants. EMTs and paramedics are needed in fire departments, on cruise ships, on oil rigs, at ski resorts, and more.

Work Environment

This job can be dangerous. Paramedics can be routinely exposed to disease, including hepatitis and HIV, and they risk injury. Patients under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or who suffer from mental disabilities, can become violent and be resistant to help.

Following proper procedures help, however, such as waiting for police intervention in highly volatile situations and wearing protective gear.

Work Schedule

Jobs are typically full time and may also include overtime. Emergencies happen around the clock, so schedules for EMTs and paramedics can include nights, weekends, and holidays. Shift work is common so that staff is available around the clock. About one-third of paramedics and EMTs routinely worked more than 40 hours a week in 2016. Some work 12- or 24-hour shifts with long stretches of time off in between.

How to Get the Job

PREPARE

Before you apply for EMT or paramedic jobs, get your cover letter and resume in order. Review and update your education, work and volunteer experience, and any skills or certifications that may be applicable to the job.

VOLUNTEER

Look for an opportunity to do volunteer work as an EMT or paramedic through online sites such as VolunteerMatch to make contacts and expand your skillset.

APPLY

Locate open positions by using resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. Visit company websites to locate job openings. Many niche job portals exist online, such as the National Registry of EMTs, to help narrow your search with targeted job postings.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in becoming an EMT or paramedic also consider the following career paths. Here's a list of similar jobs, along with the median annual salary.