Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings. People’s lives often depend on their quick reaction and competent care. EMTs and paramedics respond to emergency calls, performing medical services and transporting patients to medical facilities.
A 911 operator sends EMTs and paramedics to the scene of an emergency, where they often work with police and firefighters.
EMTs and paramedics typically do the following:
- Respond to 911 calls for emergency medical assistance, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or bandaging a wound
- Assess a patient’s condition and determine a course of treatment
- Follow guidelines learned in training or received from physicians who oversee their work
- Use backboards and restraints to keep patients still and safe in an ambulance during transport
- Help transfer patients to the emergency department of a healthcare facility and report their observations and treatment to the staff
- Create a patient care report, documenting the medical care given to the patient
- Replace used supplies and check or clean equipment after use
When taking a patient to a hospital, one EMT or paramedic may drive the ambulance while another monitors the patient's vital signs and gives additional care. Some paramedics work as part of a helicopter's flight crew to transport critically ill or injured patients to a hospital.
EMTs and paramedics also transport patients from one medical facility to another. Some patients may need to be transferred to a hospital that specializes in treating their injury or illness or to a facility that provides long-term care, such as a nursing home.
If a patient has a contagious disease, EMTs and paramedics decontaminate the interior of the ambulance and may need to report the case to the proper authorities.
The specific responsibilities of EMTs and paramedics depend on whether they are an EMT or EMT-Basic, Advanced EMT, or paramedic; and the state they work in. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) provides national certification of EMTs and paramedics at three levels: EMT/Basic, Advanced EMT or EMT-Intermediate, and Paramedic. Some states, however, have their own certification programs and use different titles.
An EMT, also known as an EMT-Basic, cares for patients at the scene of an incident and while taking patients by ambulance to a hospital. An EMT-Basic has the skills to assess a patient's condition and to manage respiratory, cardiac, and trauma emergencies.
An Advanced EMT, also known as an EMT-Intermediate, has completed the requirements for the EMT level, as well as instruction in more advanced medical procedures, such as administering intravenous fluids and some medications.
Paramedics provide more extensive prehospital care than do EMTs. In addition to being able to carry out the tasks of EMTs, paramedics can give medications orally and intravenously, interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs)—used to monitor heart function—and use other monitors and complex equipment.
The specific tasks or procedures EMTs and paramedics are allowed to perform at any level vary by state.
Both a high school diploma or equivalent and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification are prerequisites for most postsecondary educational programs in emergency medical technology. Most of these programs are postsecondary non-degree award programs that can be completed in less than 1 year; others last up to 2 years. Paramedics, however, may need an associate’s degree. Educational programs in emergency medical technology are offered by technical institutes, community colleges, and facilities that specialize in emergency care training. High school students interested in becoming EMTs or paramedics should take courses in anatomy and physiology.
Paramedics have the most advanced level of education. They must complete EMT and Advanced EMT levels of instruction, along with courses in advanced medical skills. Community colleges and technical schools may offer these programs, which require about 1,200 hours of instruction and may lead to an associate's degree. Paramedics’ broader scope of practice may include stitching wounds or administering intravenous medications.
Employment of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics is projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.
The median hourly wage for emergency medical technicians and paramedics is $13.50 in Montana.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, EMTs and Paramedics