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EMT - Paramedic: How to Become a Paramedic

Learn how to become a paramedic. Research the job duties and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in emergency medicine.

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Do I Want to Be an EMT-Paramedic?

Paramedics are the highest level of emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They respond to emergency dispatches and provide advanced life support to the injured and ill while en route to the hospital, whether by ambulance or helicopter. Unlike other EMTs, paramedics can administer intravenous medications and manage other complex emergency care procedures. Some of these professionals work weekends and overnight in order to make emergency care available around the clock; many of them work very long shifts.

Job Requirements

Aspiring EMTs must have a high school education and CPR certification to enter a postsecondary training program that spans about 1-2 years. Paramedics start out as basic or intermediate-level EMTs and, with the proper training, advance to positions as paramedics. Licensing is required. The following table details the basic requirements for entering this field:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Formal training program; most award a certificate or associate's degree*
Degree Field EMT-Paramedic or paramedic studies*
Licensure All states require paramedics to be licensed, most accept certification through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT); others require passing scores on state-issued exams*
Experience Varies by employer; could range from 1-3 years of experience**
Key Skills Compassion for injured or ill patients, excellent communication and problem-solving skills, the ability to work well with others while under duress*
Additional Skills Physical strength, valid state driver's license**

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Job postings by employers (July 2012).

Step 1: Earn an EMT-Basic Certificate

While some paramedic training programs include EMT instruction, many require applicants to have completed EMT-Basic training prior to enrollment. These entry-level programs typically admit high school graduates who are at least 18 years of age and have a current CPR certification. Instruction focuses on the fundamental skills necessary for providing pre-hospital medical care. Students learn to assess patients' conditions, control bleeding, manage airways and respond to cardiac emergencies. Hands-on experience is often gained by completing a portion of the training in an ambulance, hospital emergency room or labor ward.

Success Tip:

  • Get fit. EMTs and paramedics need to be in good physical condition. Many of their job duties require them to position patients or lift them into ambulances.

Step 2: Pass the EMT Licensing Exams

Paramedic training programs could also require applicants to be licensed EMTs. This process entails passing a state-issued exam or earning certification through the NREMT after training has been completed. Those who pass this professional organization's cognitive and psychomotor skills examinations are awarded EMT-Basic credentials.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Aspiring paramedics should consider acquiring work experience as EMTs before applying to a paramedic training program. Some schools only admit applicants who've completed six months to a year of full-time employment. Other schools admit those who've filled related positions as lifeguards or firefighters.

Step 4: Complete a Paramedic Training Program

Paramedic training programs typically last 1-2 years and often result in a certificate or associate's degree. Students learn how to administer medication, start IVs and stitch wounds. Other advanced course topics cover pediatric and obstetrical emergencies, cardiac care and trauma. Most programs also require students to complete field experiences and clinical practicums.

Success Tip:

  • Develop your listening and speaking skills. Students might want to consider enrolling in a communications class or two. Paramedics must be able to clearly explain procedures to patients and their families during times of crisis.

Step 5: Obtain State Licensure

In all states, paramedics are required to be licensed. Much like the process for becoming a licensed EMT, paramedics must pass exams issued by their state of residence or earn credentials from the NREMT. The latter's 2-part certification exam is comprised of a written and practical portion covering such areas as medication skills, patient assessment and cardiac management. Paramedics are typically required to renew their credentials every 2-3 years by earning continuing education credits and attending refresher courses.

Success Tip:

  • Study for the exam. Any material and notes taken in class can be saved and reviewed prior to the exam. The NREMT also offers skill sheets and a list of exam topics on its website.
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