How to Become a Paramedic: Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
Working as a first responder is one of the most noble (and helpful) career paths a person can follow. From the start of your shift to the last minute of your day (and sometimes during off-hours as well), you’re the first line of defense against injury, illness, and death. And it’s a fantastic job. EMTs are heroes, and they’re always portrayed as such in Hollywood films and television. Best of all—they actually make a difference in people’s lives.
But many within that first line of defense, namely Emergency Medical Technicians, want to do more to help people. They crave more responsibility, better pay, and better job opportunities. For these reasons among others, many EMTs choose to become paramedics.
EMT vs. Paramedic
What’s The Difference Between an EMT and a Paramedic?
From many angles, EMTs and Paramedics look almost identical. They work similar shifts, wear similar uniforms, spend their days at an EMT headquarters or inside an ambulance, and their jobs are to save lives. The primary differences between the two are training, responsibilities, and salary.
EMT vs. Paramedic: TRAINING
An EMT typically completes an EMT course like the 14-day EMT crash course, completing 120+ hours of training before becoming certified.
A paramedic, on the other hand, builds on that initial EMT foundation by completing 1,200+ hours of training before certification. This higher level of training can take one to two years to complete.
EMT vs. Paramedic: RESPONSIBILITIES
EMTs and paramedics share many of the same responsibilities as first responders—providing emergency aid for those suffering from injury or illness.
The primary difference between the two is that with the exception of auto-injectors (such as the EpiPen), EMTs are not allowed to break the skin of their patients—that means no needles and no IVs.
The advanced training of paramedics allows them to do everything an EMT does plus administer medication, start IVs, and provide advanced airway management.
EMT vs. Paramedic: SALARY
Pay is also an advantage, with paramedics making an average 18% more per year than EMTs.
What Does a Paramedic Do?
You can think of a paramedic as an EMT 2.0. A paramedic takes the vital EMT training and uses it as a foundation to learn more advanced techniques.
Because of the additional training and skills required, a paramedic can save lives in complicated situations where EMT training might not be enough.
Paramedic Job Description
For those who want to make as big a difference as possible as a first responder, paramedics have a much larger field of opportunity. In addition to the life-saving techniques learned in your EMT training, you’ll also learn how to provide the following life-saving procedures:
- Administer shots
- Start intravenous lines
- Draw blood
- Advanced cardiac life support
Paramedic Work Hours
Emergencies can happen at any time of day, weekdays, or weekends, so like their EMT counterparts, paramedics are on call 24-hours. Paramedics commonly work in 9-, 12-, or 24-hour shifts, and full time paramedics can expect to work 40 or more hours per week depending on staffing.
A paramedic’s exact work hours, however, will be determined by where he or she works, and that information is typically included in the job description when you apply.
What Does a Paramedic’s Day Look Like?
The truth is there is no such thing as a normal day for paramedics. Like EMTs, paramedics start each shift not knowing what to expect in the hours ahead. Each day is an adventure that could take them anywhere.
Some days may be quiet, treating only minor scrapes or checking out a patient as a precaution after a small fender bender.
Other days may be non-stop, with paramedics rushing from the scene of one disaster or accident to the next, providing care as quickly as possible, racing against time to carry patients to the nearest hospital just to turn around and go back for more. On one day you may perform cardiac life support for an elder patient, while delivering a newborn baby on the next.
Still, there are some aspects of the paramedic’s day that are routine. Every day begins with a rig (ambulance) check and equipment inspection, and every call begins at a standby location (a hospital, ambulance center, clinic, or fire department). Where you go after that is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain… you’ll be well trained for whatever comes your way.
According to the NREMT (National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians), anyone applying to become a paramedic must meet the following requirements:
- You must be 18 or older
- You must currently be certified as an EMT (learn how to become an EMT here)
- You must have completed an accredited paramedic program within the last two years
- You must be CPR certified
- You must complete a psychomotor competency portfolio (proof that you can physically handle the job of a paramedic)
- You must complete the NREMT paramedic cognitive and psychomotor certification exams
How to Become a Paramedic
If you decided to advance your career from EMT to Paramedic, congratulations! You’re already on your way to an exciting career as a highly qualified first responder. The road ahead means a lot of study and a lot of hard work, but at the end lies a life-changing opportunity where saving lives is a daily responsibility.
The first step towards becoming a paramedic, of course, is to first become an EMT, which you can do through courses such as the 14-day EMT Boot Camp. Once you’ve completed that requirements, it’s time to begin your training as a paramedic.
Here’s a comprehensive look at what you can expect during the process.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Paramedic?
The time required to become a paramedic depends heavily on the educational route you choose. If you study full-time, you may be able to complete your training within a year. If you study part-time while continuing to work as an EMT, your courses may take you two to three years to complete.
Some courses also require future paramedics to have up to six months experience as an EMT before they can begin their paramedic classes.
Paramedics also have the option of advancing their training with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university—though this route is typically reserved for paramedics who hope to advance to management roles or eventually enroll in medical school.
During EMT training, students build a foundation in emergency medicine by studying:
- Vital sign monitoring
- Wound dressing
- Patient transport
As a paramedic student, you’ll build on these EMT skills to study:
- Burn treatment
- Soft tissue shock
- Obstetrics and Gynecology (childbirth)
- Endocrinology (for treating diabetics and those with similar conditions)
- Musculoskeletal trauma
- Pharmacology (administering medicine)
- Toxicology (treating overdoses and similar abuse)
- IV administration
The Cognitive Exam – Once you’ve completed your training as a paramedic, the next step is to become certified. This is done by successfully passing the NREMT Paramedic Certification Exams.
You’ll begin by registering for the exam at NREMT.org (with a registration fee of $125 per attempt). You’ll then be emailed an ATT (authorization to test) with your exam location.
Heading into the exam, be sure and review the main components of your paramedic training:
- Trauma patients, and
You may also consider downloading a practice NREMT exam for a small fee.
After the test (like with your EMT certification exam), you’ll be given a pass or fail. If you pass, congratulations! You’re ready to step into the paramedic uniform. If you fail, don’t panic. You can take the test up to six times before having to retake training courses (after your third attempt, you may also be required to take a 48-hour remedial course).
Fortunately, if you happen to fail the test, the computer will provide feedback on areas or questions that you missed, so you should have a good idea where to spend some extra study hours. Students must wait 15 days between retakes, so that should give you plenty of time to brush up on any problem areas!
The Psychomotor Exam – In addition to your computer exam (Cognitive), paramedic students must also pass a psychomotor exam as well. This exam tests not only your knowledge but how you apply that knowledge in the field. During the exam, you’ll be asked to:
- Size-up a scene
- Perform initial resuscitation
- Take a patient’s history
- Make a secondary assessment
- Read an ECG and manage both:
- A cardiac irregularity, such as arrhythmia
- A cardiac arrest
You’ll also be tested on your communication ability—both receiving information and giving commands.
Paramedic Certification Renewal
Like most other emergency medicine careers, paramedics are required to recertify every two years. This can be done by one of two ways:
Continuing Education – Paramedics can take courses or attend seminars to earn a total of 60 hours of continuing education in order to recertify. Guidelines for the allowed courses are very specific and must meet strict guidelines and quotas. A full list of requirements can be found here.
Recertification Exam – Paramedics can also opt to recertify by exam. This can be done by following most of the same steps as the initial paramedics cognitive exam—login to NREMT.org, pay the exam fee ($125 in most cases), and look for the ATT (authorization to test) in your email 24 – 48 hours later. One important thing to remember when recertifying by exam, however… you only get one attempt!
Important Note: The NREMT is required to randomly audit their certified paramedics, so always keep your certification and recertification documents in a safe place in case you’re asked to produce them.
The average salary of a paramedic in the United States ranges from $38,398 to $48,733 with a median salary of $42,762, but just like an EMT’s salary, how much you get paid depends heavily on which city you call home and how many years’ experience you have under your belt.
(Check out our list of the best paying cities for EMTs here).
And don’t forget to factor in overtime when considering the final compensation. Some organizations may cap your hours at 40 per week, but others may allow for overtime shifts, which can greatly impact that final number.
Paramedic Job Outlook
Once you’ve certified as a paramedic, all that’s left is locking down that first job. And finding that first job is easier than ever. The need for paramedics is expected to grow by 7% (faster than average) in the coming years, which means more open positions for hospitals and ambulance centers, and more open opportunities for qualified paramedics like you.
Some excellent job searching resources online include:
The World Needs Paramedics and you could belong to the next generation of these highly-skilled first responders. Whether your interest is in the strong career opportunities, competitive pay, valuable skills, or you’re just looking to help people on a daily basis, the paramedic career is more than promising.
Check out Unitek’s 14-day EMT crash courses today, and in as little as two weeks, you could be on your way to saving lives.