Being an EMT Provides the Best Clinical Experience There is for Pre-Med Students
For ambitious EMTs with a real interest in medicine that goes beyond providing vital aid in emergency situations, becoming a doctor is often the ultimate goal. Of course, being a doctor means your pay is much better, your responsibilities are probably greater, and your hours will usually be more regular. Becoming a doctor is more than just a great (and big) career move, it’s really a change in lifestyle—from the hours and years it takes to become one, to the lifestyle it can afford once you do.
But before you don the white coat, you need to make it through medical school—and that’s no small feat. But one of the best ways to get a good running start at medical school is by first getting hands-on experience as an EMT.
Why Medical Schools Love EMTs
As an EMT, you are in possession of an incredibly valuable asset… experience. Your shifts in the ambulance, treating trauma and sickness out in the field, gives you hands-on, real-world experience that can’t be taught in a classroom. For that reason, medical schools look very favorably on EMT applicants. Your experience and dedication also prove to medical schools (and their admissions boards) that you already and truly have a passion for treating patients, and have proven so by taking the proper steps to building a solid career in medicine.
In a survey of 67 medical schools across the United States and Canada, 85.7% of schools responded more favorably to EMT and paramedic experience than those without experience, when reviewing applicants. And of course, none of the schools viewed EMS experience negatively. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine)
- 85.7% – Positive
- 14.3% – Neutral
- 0% – Negative
Going the distance and showing the dedication to becoming a doctor takes your mission as an EMT to an entirely different level, allowing you to treat patients in bigger, better, and different ways—which means different environments, different circumstances, and a different kind of job satisfaction.
How to Prepare for Medical School as an EMT
Experience as an EMT can help once you’re in medical school in a variety of ways. Typically, a pre-med student with EMT experience will:
- Gain medical knowledge and certification through their EMT training
- Meet clinical and patient care hour requirements
- Stand out to admission committees
- Gain practical knowledge that’s not taught in school
- Get an inside look into the operations of hospitals, care facilities, and emergency rooms
- Strengthen their application – for any job or school
Going From EMT to Medical School
Pre-med students can learn countless valuable skills during EMT training or while on the job as medical first responders.
Some of the most useful skills that can prepare you for medical school include:
- Patient assessment and triage
- Stabilization of patients
- Immobilizing injured patients
- Recognizing the signs of trauma and shock
- Emergency medicine
- Recognizing common medical emergencies, such as diabetic shock and overdose
- Communication with EMT teams in the field
- Movement of patients
- Starting an IV or administering intravenous drugs (paramedics only)
Your EMT clinical experience will almost certainly be used again during your career as a doctor, and knowing how to use your skills effectively will also give you a significant leg up in your medical school training.
Why EMTs Should Consider Pre-Med Training
Life as an EMT can be very exciting. Some people even go into it for that very reason. It involves saving lives, and it offers a secure career in an ever-growing field.
Life as a doctor can be all of this and more. For starters, there’s the salary* issue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, doctors and surgeons make an average salary* of about $297,800 per year, which is nearly $175,000 per year more than the average EMT.
Physicians also have many more responsibilities than EMTs, including leading an on-call staff of nurses and technicians during their shifts, diagnosing injuries and illnesses, prescribing medicines, and completing complex procedures.
Additionally, specialization is an option for doctors. Do you enjoy working with kids? You could choose to specialize in pediatric medicine. Prefer analysis to medical procedures? You might want to look into a field like interventional radiology and examine x-rays for a living. There are countless possibilities after medical school. All you have to do is decide which one suits you best.
Of course, in order to become a doctor and choose a specialty, you do need to complete some intense training over the course of several years. But as an EMT, you have the advantage of having completed some training already, and you already have experience treating patients outside of a classroom setting.
What EMTs Can Expect in Medical School
Medical School Requirements
While exact requirements may vary from one school to another, most medical schools require the following from their applicants:
- A four-year Bachelor of Science degree
- Letters of recommendation
- A minimum GPA of 3.0
- A passing MCAT exam score
Some medical schools also require their applicants to have taken specific courses in college, such as Biology, Chemistry, and Advanced Mathematics.
Medical School Courses (Curriculum)
Be prepared, because once you’ve been accepted into medical school, you can expect four intensive years of medical school training followed by 3, to as many as 7 years of residency, during which you’ll work as a doctor, but under the supervision of a senior physician.
Your first two years of medical school will consist primarily of classes in biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology, and microbiology. Years three and four will be more familiar to students with EMT experience, as you’ll begin working in a hospital setting, shadowing doctors, interacting with patients, and performing basic procedures.
Once you’ve graduated from medical school and passed your medical board exam, the next step is your paid residency—the first year of which many consider equivalent to a paid medical internship. This is your big opportunity to begin exploring possible specialties and you’ll be assigned to a hospital.
After successfully completing your residency, along with any required exams for your specialty, you’ll be certified to work as an unrestricted doctor or surgeon. From here you can choose to continue to work for a hospital or private practice or go on to one of the countless other options in the field of medicine. The options at this point in your medical career are endless.
But for eager and aspiring students who want to begin working with patients and gaining clinical experience, enrolling at their nearest EMT school is a great way to get a leg up in the field before medical school even begins.
Doctor’s Salary: Residency
Once you begin your residency great things begin to happen. For example, you can stop paying tuition and start getting paid for your hospital and clinic hours. Of course, exact pay varies from one program to another, but according to Glassdoor, the national average salary* for medical residents is about $73,000 per year. You can even earn extra pay by taking additional shifts (known as “moonlighting”) or continuing to work and gain experience as an EMT on the side. Be sure to check your residency program’s requirements for more information on what your intended program allows.
The EMT Advantage
Pre-Med Clinical Experience:
For the most part, medical school training is clinical—it’s not about textbooks and lab simulations anymore, pre-med students are out on the floor, observing doctors and participating in working with actual patients. And some of that clinical experience is required before students can even apply to medical school. Clinical experience can either be paid (working as an EMT, paramedic, medical tech, or pharmaceutical tech) or on a volunteer basis (internships, externships, and assisting in hospices, clinics, or other similar fields). Basically, any time you’re working near a patient, it usually counts as clinical experience hours.
This immediately gives medical first responders a head start on those lacking EMT experience, as EMTs have real-world clinical experience with patients and observing doctors in various situations.
Note: Be sure to read the application requirements carefully before submitting EMT hours as clinical experience, as some schools may require additional hospital or clinic shadowing.
Stronger Medical School Applications:
Beyond citing reasons they think they’ll be good at medicine, as many medical school applicants do when they apply, EMTs can cite real-world examples of how they’ve dedicated themselves to the profession already, treated patients, and even saved lives. Related extracurricular experiences and volunteer hours also help to strengthen an application so don’t ignore those! But with an EMT certification, clinical experience, and recommendations from superiors you’ve worked under in the medical field your application has a good chance of standing out from the crowd.
Pre-Med Work Experience:
Not only do EMTs have paid medical work experience highlighting their resumes, but of course, it means they’ve also completed training and certification to become EMTs. To medical schools, this is a strong indication of an experienced, ambitious, dedicated worker who has already proven their reliability and skill in treating patients.
Patience Under Pressure:
Despite the appeal of medical school and residency, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Almost no other job requires hard work, dedication, and intense study to complete the multi-year training as becoming a licensed doctor or surgeon. And of course, for good reason. Fortunately, EMTs are trained to stay cool under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations—skills that will certainly carry over into medical school. The ability to handle all kinds of pressure is a huge advantage when dealing with the stresses of medical school.
Nearly all medical students can spend weeks, months, or even years simply learning how to be comfortable dealing with patients in a medical setting. But as an EMT, you’ve already accomplished this and have been working directly with patients for some time. This allows you to focus on the medicine rather than your comfort level.
The View of the Finish Line:
Many students who drop out of medical school do so because they didn’t fully understand what they were really getting themselves into. They often underestimate the workload, the toll of all those late nights, or the strain of working in emergency situations and with patients. As an EMT, you’ve already experienced these challenges and have figured out how to overcome them. You know exactly what career you’re working towards and why, and that alone puts you well ahead of the curve.
EMTs Make Excellent Medical Students
Certainly, not all EMTs decide to go to medical school, and that’s absolutely fine. The world needs qualified dedicated EMTs on call 24/7, especially ones who love their job. But the EMTs who do go on to medical school do so with a full set of skills and experiences that medical schools really like to see.
If you’re interested in pursuing your EMT certification before applying to medical school, check out our guide on how to become an EMT. In just over two weeks, you could be on your way to a successful, rewarding career in medicine.