Ballpark Estimate: EMT-Basic: $630 to $3,980; EMT-Paramedic: $3,680 to $15,730
Whether it’s a highway collision, a heart attack, a house on fire, or violence at the scene of a robbery or domestic dispute, when someone calls 911 for an injury, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) show up. There are a number of different certification levels for EMTs, but the most common are EMT-Basic and EMT-Paramedic. Usually, these people work as a team in an ambulance. This article will explain the difference between these two EMT levels, and describe how to prepare and train for each occupation.
What Is an EMT-Basic?
EMT-Basic is the first level of EMT training. EMT-Basics generally receive between 120 and 150 hours of training over the course of 3 to 8 months. Once certified, an EMT-Basic has the skills to assess a patient’s condition and provide basic lifesaving care. They are qualified to use oxygen, various inhalers, glucose, and epinephrine auto-injectors to aid patients suffering from respiratory or cardiac distress, shock, and other types of trauma. EMT-Basics are not allowed to break the skin. For instance, they set up IVs so paramedics can administer them. They are skilled in all first aid techniques (bandaging, splinting) and CPR. They take vital signs, and generally assist the paramedic in stabilizing and transporting the patient to the hospital. EMT-Basics drive the ambulance, make calls to advising physicians and relay information, assist in rescues, and are in charge of getting the ambulance cleaned up, re-stocked, and ready to go for the next emergency.
What Is an EMT-Paramedic?
EMT-Paramedic is the highest level of EMT certification. To become an EMT-Paramedic, you need 1,200 to 1,800 hours of training over the course of about two years. Paramedics are the more medically-trained members of an ambulance team. There is a saying in emergency medicine that “paramedics save lives, and EMTs save paramedics.” This means that to be effective, paramedics and EMT-Basics must work together like a well-oiled machine. Paramedics have the advanced skills and knowledge to administer between 30 and 40 different medications either orally or intravenously. They can give injections, interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs), perform intubations, and implement cardiac life support procedures (such as defibrillation). Once at the hospital, paramedics often assist physicians in stabilizing the patient.
Working as an EMT-Basic or EMT-Paramedic requires both physical and emotional strength. You will often find yourself kneeling or bending over your patient who might be in bed, on the floor, or trapped inside a car. You will have to lift your patient (with the help of your team) and transport the patient either to a safer or more comfortable area or into the ambulance. Patients come in all shapes and sizes, so you must be able to lift heavy weights from a bending position. You will be exposed to disease and infection as well as to occasionally hysterical or mentally unbalanced patients who may become violent. The noise of the ambulance siren can damage your hearing. The stress of the job can sometimes be difficult to bear.
Where and When Will You Work?
EMTs and paramedics are found in police and fire stations, hospitals, and private ambulance companies. Hours are usually long, ranging from 45 to 60 hours a week. You will often be “on call” 24 hours a day. There will be long periods of boredom followed by bursts of intense, stressful, and sometimes dangerous work.
First Steps Toward Certification
Rules and requirements for getting your EMT training and certification vary widely from state to state. If you’re considering EMT training, the first thing you should do is visit your state’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) website to learn the certification requirements. Simply search for “your state EMT Certification” and look for websites at the top of the list that end in .gov or .org. You can also look for a website in the list described as degreedirectory.org where you’ll find links to some of your state’s best schools.
In most jurisdictions, you must have a high school diploma or a GED certificate to qualify for an EMT training program. Once you’ve determined what your state’s requirements are, it’s time to find the right EMT training experience for you.
There are many EMT schools online that claim to be inexpensive and fast. However, the key to real EMT certification is hands-on, practical, clinical experience. Be wary of online schools and research them carefully to be sure that credits you earn online are transferable to other institutions. Your best bet is to research your local community colleges or independent accredited training schools.
EMT-Basic Certificate Course: $500 to $3,820
Courses last anywhere from 3 to 8 months (120 to 150 college credit hours). Most affordable programs are either in-state or in-district tuition at local community colleges. Once you have successfully completed your courses, you apply for your state’s written and practical skills exams (see Licensing, below).
EMT-Paramedic Certificate Course: $3,500 to $15,500
Most paramedic programs prefer applicants who have worked as EMT-Basics for 1 to 2 years. Paramedic programs last anywhere from one to two years (1,200 to 1,800 college credit hours). Most affordable programs are in-state tuition at community colleges or small state colleges; many paramedic programs result in a 2-year associate’s degree. When you have successfully completed your courses, you must apply for your state’s written and practical skills exams (see Licensing, below).
Once you have completed your EMT training and received your certificate, it is usually required by your state that you take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) Exam. Visit the NREMT website to register for the exam, learn the NREMT certification process, purchase a voucher to pay for the exam, and learn about the required, state-approved psychomotor exam.
- EMT-Basic Exam Fee: $70
- EMT-Paramedic Exam Fee: $110
There are a number of websites designed to help you review and study in preparation for the NREMT exam. EMT-National-Training.com www.emt-national-training.com offers 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month subscriptions to its large library of exam questions. The site also offers free access to practice tests, tips, and links to “EMT Certification, Licensing, Training and Examination Requirements by State.”
- EMT-Basic Subscriptions: $39.95 to $69.95
- EMT-Paramedic Subscriptions: $49.95 to $99.95
Here are a couple of recommended books to help you prepare for the exams:
Note: Some states require that you obtain an ambulance driver’s license. Check with your EMT training organization or your local Department of Motor Vehicles for more information.
How Much Will You Earn?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008 report for average annual wages earned:
- EMTs and Paramedics: $29,330 ($15.38/hour)
- Entry level workers: $18,880 ($9.08/hour)
- Top annual wage: $49,440 ($23.77/hour)
However, keep in mind that wages vary depending on location and company. For instance, in New York City, the 2009 starting salary for an EMT-Basic working for the fire department is $31,930; after five years, the figure is $45,800. Paramedics working for the NYFD start at $43,690; after five years, the salary rises to $59,000.
The outlook for hiring EMTs in the coming years is excellent. As training and hours become more demanding, paid EMTs are taking the place of volunteers. Also, there is a high turnover rate among EMTs. For some, the stress of the job causes burnout. For others, the work inspires them to either get more medical training or use their EMT skills in other jobs, such as firefighting.
Finally, the more education and training you have, the more likely you will be hired at the job of your choice. If your schedule and budget allows for it, getting advanced certification and taking additional training courses is always a good idea.