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How to Prepare for Your Emergency Medical Technician Training

Tips for Surviving EMT Training: Expectations, Requirements, and Challenges

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Today’s Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are critical to public health and safety. When emergency strikes, EMTs are first on the scene, providing immediate, life-saving medical care to patients and then transporting them to a hospital by ambulance as quickly as possible.

The EMT role is demanding, complicated, and often dangerous. Their decisions are often life-and-death, speed and accuracy are essential, and every call can present unique challenges. For this reason, EMT’s must receive thorough training in the current tools, techniques, and best practices of EMT care.

This article will provide you with insight into the various EMT programs that are offered and help you choose the right one for your goals. After reading this guide, you’ll understand the admission requirements of an EMT program and know what to expect after enrollment. Completing any qualified EMT program can prepare you for employment, but graduating from the right program can empower you to excel as an elite EMT.

Why Become an EMT?

Being an Emergency Medical Technician is one of the most challenging, exciting, and rewarding occupations you can pursue. The role of an EMT requires an exceptional type of individual who is courageous, committed, and caring. An EMT must be physically and mentally capable. They must think quickly, adapt to unique challenges, and remain calm under pressure. Above all, they must be well trained. It’s not an easy job. It’s not for everybody. But for a select few, it can be the role of a lifetime. It’s the role of the hero.

Typically, the responsibilities of an EMT include responding to 911 calls for emergency medical assistance. These emergencies can include everything from heart attacks, strokes, and seizures, to car crashes, building fires, and gunshot wounds. They assess a patient’s condition and determine a course of treatment. They provide first-aid and life support care to sick or injured patients. They transport patients to hospitals or other healthcare facilities and report their observations and treatment to other healthcare professionals. They also document the medical care they provide to patients. In addition, they will inventory, replace and maintain the supplies and equipment needed to perform their job.

Emergency Medical Technicians are in growing demand. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that overall employment of EMTs is projected to grow 11 percent through 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations (8%). Though not one of the highest paying careers in healthcare, income for EMTs is relatively high for the amount of education required. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for EMTs was about $37,000 in 2020, and EMTs who earned wages in the highest 10 percent made more than $62,000 per year. Finally, there are several alternative jobs for EMT’s if they decide that they’d like to take a different path in their career.

To learn more about the EMT role and becoming an EMT, read our article: Emergency Medical Technician—Nature of the Work and Training.

Finding the Right EMT Program for You

The first step to becoming an Emergency Medical Technician is choosing the best school or program for your goals, timeline, availability, and budget. Below are some essential factors to consider when selecting your EMT program:

Certificate or Degree. The first question you’ll need to ask yourself is how much education and training do you want or need? EMT programs typically offer either a certificate or an associate degree upon completion. Either program can qualify you for employment as an EMT. Certificate programs can require a few weeks to a year to complete, while degree programs generally require two years of schooling. If you’re looking to enter the workforce as soon as possible, a certificate program can qualify you for employment and prepare you to excel in the EMT role in a very short amount of time. On the other hand, if you intend to continue your education and pursue different roles in the healthcare field—including a nurse, doctor, or healthcare administrator—an associate degree may provide greater value in the long run.

Current, Relevant Curriculum and Hands-On Training. Like healthcare, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are constantly evolving with new technology, medicines, and medical techniques. At the same time, the work environment is also changing in terms of legal regulations, job description, and threats to public health and safety. For example, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the way EMTs operate. To thoroughly prepare for the role of EMT, you will want a training program that offers an up-to-date program that includes:

  • Curriculum that is updated to the latest standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Hands-on instruction using current equipment and technology, including cutting-edge mobile applications
  • Instructors with current, on-the-job experience
  • Realistic training simulations reflecting the current state of EMT services

On-Campus or Online. For EMT training, the choice between on-campus or online instruction is mostly a matter of learning preference, convenience, and scheduling of classes. However, you should probably be skeptical of any EMT program offered 100% online.

To become certified as an EMT, you will need to pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam. This exam has two parts: a psychomotor test of your physical skills and a cognitive test which is a written test of your knowledge. For this reason, you will want an EMT training program that provides a complete understanding of the EMT role, tools, and techniques. You will also want a program that can develop your ability to actually perform the physical tasks of an EMT.

Most EMT training programs are conducted entirely on-campus or online with at least some in-person instruction. Unless you already have experience performing the physical duties of an EMT, you will want some form of in-person instruction, preferably with real-life emergency simulations using actual equipment.

Approval of State EMS Office. The NREMT exam, which you need to pass for EMT certification, has two components: the psychomotor (skills) examination and the cognitive (written) exam. The psychomotor exam is NOT administered by the National Registry. Instead, it is conducted by your state’s EMS Office or by your EMT school with the approval of your state’s EMS Office. For this reason, you should look for an EMT school that has approval from your state’s EMS Office. This way, you can take the NREMT psychomotor exam through your EMT school and they can better prepare you to pass it.

Cost. Depending on the school and the length of the program, EMT training programs can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $20,000 or more. For example:

  • A training school program can range from $1,200 to $4,200 and require from a few weeks to a year, depending on the school.
  • A one-year certificate program at a community college can average $2,500 to $10,000.
  • A two-year associate degree program can range from $600 to $5,400 per year for residents and up to $10,800 per year for out-of-state students.

Also, be on guard for any hidden costs, fees or service charges. For example, while some schools will offer an all-inclusive price, many schools have additional expenses (such as books and supplies), testing fees, or extra charges for administrative services.

Reputation or History. It would be best if you asked some key questions regarding the reputation or history of a potential EMT training program that may impact its value to you as a graduate.

Here are some of the most important questions to ask:

  • How long has the school been around?
  • How many students have they graduated?
  • Are graduates happy with their education and training experience?
  • Do potential employers hire graduates from this type of program or this specific school?
  • What is the graduation rate for this program?
  • What is the job placement rate for graduates of this program?

How to Get into an EMT Training Program

Demand for emergency medical technicians is high. As a result, demand for admission into EMT training programs is also high. Because most schools accept students on a first-come-first-served basis, you should start the enrollment process as early as possible—at least two or months prior to your desired start date. Be sure to ask the enrollment counselor to explain all the requirements and prerequisites needed to qualify for admission. If you are denied enrollment, don’t be discouraged. It could be a simple matter of the program being full for that starting date. But in any event, find out why you were denied, so you can fix any issues and try again.

While admission requirements will vary depending on the program and the school, most of them require a similar set of criteria for enrollment. Below is a list of typical admissions requirements drawn from programs around the country.

Admission requirements for EMT programs typically include: 

  • Submit a completed application and fee
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Send official transcripts from a high school or GED program
  • Current American Heart Association Basic Life Support for Healthcare Provider Certification (AHA BLS CPR)

Is EMT Training Hard?

The best EMT programs are not easy. But if you apply yourself, pay attention, and study the materials, you will gain the knowledge and skills you need to excel as an emergency medical technician.

You can pass almost any EMT program diligence and dedication. However, if you fail a course, skill assessment, or test during your program, don’t panic—it happens. Typically, you can re-take that course or test or apply additional study time to the material and demonstrate your understanding of the subject in an alternate way. The best EMT programs want you to succeed, both in their program and in your career. Today’s EMTs must perform complicated and exacting tasks with the utmost speed and accuracy. It’s often a matter of life and death. To be properly prepared, you must learn a lot of material and master a variety of skills.

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EMT Program Tips

No matter what program you choose, EMT training will be challenging. You have to absorb a lot of information and acquire a variety of skills in a relatively short amount of time. But with hard work and diligent study, you can graduate with a thorough understanding of the EMT role and a high level of skill. Below are a few tips to help you make the most of your EMT program.

1. Talk to Other Students or Graduates

If you can find a current student or graduate of your EMT program—or even an instructor—ask for their advice. Do they have any tips? Were they surprised by any aspect of the program? Can they provide insight into the instructors, classes, materials, and exams? As experts on this subject, they can actually teach you the best ways to learn.

2. Schedule Study Times

Schedule set times each week to review what you’ve learned in class and in simulations for the final exam and the psychomotor skills portion of the NREMT exam. Remove all distractions during these periods. Start studying as soon as possible to avoid last-minute cramming and give yourself more time to review areas you are not confident about.

3. Treat Yourself Right

It’s essential to be in good mental and physical shape while attending a rigorous learning program. Here are a few tips:

  • Before any school day, get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy meal, and drink plenty of water.
  • Pack smart snacks for ongoing energy.
  • Avoid stress as much as possible.

4. Avoid Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can be debilitating during any exam or skills assessment. The symptoms can include the inability to concentrate, feelings of dread, fast heartbeat, headache, and nausea. Here are a few steps you can take to avoid test anxiety:

  • Study the material thoroughly. It may seem obvious, but nothing cures test anxiety like confidence in knowing your stuff.
  • Don’t worry about the other test-takers. Scope out the whole test before you start, and allocate enough time for all sections.
  • Breathe calmly and think positively. The very act of concentrating on breathing and thinking can physically reduce anxiety.
  • Read the questions thoroughly and read all answers before making a choice.
  • Get to the test early, so there’s no rush.
  • Don’t worry! You should pass the test with flying colors if you’ve studied the material.

Passing the NREMT Exam

At the end of your EMT program or after graduation, your school may administer the NREMT psychomotor test, if it has been approved by the State EMS Office to do so. The NREMT psychomotor test will measure your ability to physically complete the responsibilities of an EMT.

The exam will assess your skills in most or all of the following areas:

  • Patient Assessment and Management – Trauma
  • Patient Assessment and Management – Medical
  • BVM Ventilation of an Apneic Adult Patient
  • Oxygen Administration by Non-Rebreathing Mask
  • Cardiac Arrest Management/AED
  • Spinal Immobilization (Supine Patient)
  • Bleeding Control/Shock Management
  • Joint Immobilization
  • Long Bone Immobilization
  • Spinal Immobilization (Sitting Patient)

Your program should prepare you to confidently pass this test, the first time. After passing the NREMT psychomotor exam and graduating the EMT training program, you will still need to schedule the second part of the NREMT exam, the cognitive exam. You must pass both tests in order to be certified as an EMT.

Click here to read our full guide on how to pass the EMT exam.

Start Your EMT Career By Enrolling in the 14-Day EMT Boot Camp at Unitek EMT

Being an Emergency Medical Technician is a challenging and rewarding career, and demand for EMTs has never been greater. Completing a degree or certificate program in for EMT training and passing the NREMT exam for certification is best to prepare for success in this important and dynamic role.

We hope this article helps you choose the right EMT program for your goals, timeline, and budget and gives you some idea of what to expect from the training experience. As you begin your journey into the field of emergency medical services, be confident in yourself, your ability to learn and master the role, and the difference you will make to your healthcare team and the lives of countless patients. You can do this. You will be a success.

To provide you with the most robust education possible, the 14-Day EMT Boot Camp at Unitek EMT offers 14 days of intensive, hands-on EMT training. Taught by experienced EMS professionals, the curriculum is frequently updated to reflect current standards, utilizes up-to-date technology, and includes realistic practice simulations. The boot camp, which consists of 10 hours of instruction per day for 14 consecutive days, simulates the intense pace of life as an EMT. Upon successful graduation from the EMT Boot Camp, you will have the knowledge, skills, and confidence you need to excel as an emergency medical technician and save lives.

The EMT program at Unitek EMT is based on the textbook: Navigate 2 Advantage Access for Emergency Care Transportation of the Sick and Injured, published by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this standard for EMT education is used around the world, and covers the National EMS Education Standard Competencies.

EMT students on computers

About Unitek EMT

Unitek EMT is one of the premier EMT schools in Arizona. Our mission is simple: training the next wave of top-notch EMT professionals. We offer a variety of training options to fit your needs, including an accelerated EMT program, to get you mission-ready and certified fast. We also offer an EMS Continuing Education courses, to update your expertise and enhance your career. Unitek EMT instructors are experienced leaders in their fields, and our real-world training scenarios are ideal for aspiring EMT professionals.

Click here to learn more about the 14-Day EMT Boot Camp at Unitek EMT in Tempe, AZ.