How to Become an EMT in California

Find out how to become an EMT. Research the California training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the emergency medical services field.

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Do I Want to Be an EMT in California?

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are health professionals who arrive first at the scene of an accident. They assess each emergency situation and determine the best way to provide initial treatment to victims. These professionals are required to stay calm in extreme circumstances and must use personal precautions when dealing with potentially hazardous or infectious situations.

Job Requirements

There are two EMT employment levels: EMT-Basic and EMT-Intermediate. Paramedics are also considered EMTs, but this article discusses the career requirements for becoming an EMT-Basic in California. Prior to becoming EMTs, individuals must first become certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Other requirements to become an EMT-Basic include completing training, passing regional exams, and meeting state licensure requirements. The following table provides further information on EMT career requirements in California:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Post-high school; completion of an EMT training program, often available through junior colleges*
Licensure and Certification CPR certification, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) certification*, and state EMT-Basic licensing filed through county of employment**
Experience 120 hours in the classroom and at least 10 hours clinical experience in the field**
Key Skills Able to work in stressful situations, empathetic to patients, good communication skills, problem solver, and ability to follow patient safety protocols *
Technical Skills Knowledge of automated external defibrillators, oxygen tanks**, gurneys, patient restraints, and ambulance equipment*
Additional Requirements Be at least 18 years of age and fulfill any additional county licensing requirements**

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)*, California Medical Services Authority (CMSA)**.

Step 1: Get a High School Diploma and CPR Certification

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the common prerequisites for enrolling in EMT training include the equivalent of a high school diploma and proof of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Red Cross offer CPR certification.

According to the AHA website, course topics discussed in certification programs may include CPR for infants, adults and children, use of defibrillators, and choking relief strategies. Students typically learn through lectures and hands-on practice with simulated victims. After candidates complete the program, their certification is usually good for up to two years before individuals must recertify.

Success Tip:

  • Take human biology courses in high school. To gain a better understanding of the human body, the BLS recommends that high school students take several courses related to human biology. Potential courses may discuss the anatomy of the body and how different bodily systems interact with one another.

Step 2: Complete EMT-Basic Training

Community colleges and vocational institutions offer EMT training at the basic level. Students must complete training courses approved by the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA). Topics covered in these training courses might include strategies for identifying illness symptoms, stabilizing trauma patients, and transporting patients, along with protocols for communicating with other medical personnel.

Programs typically require at least ten clinical hours of ride-along experience to pass basic training and to meet state requirements. Additionally, students complete labs and take final exams. During clinical training, students may learn about administering oxygen to patients, assessing immediate patient needs, and utilizing other basic life support techniques.

Step 3: Take the NREMT Exam

The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) offers the national exam that all EMTs must take to be eligible for licensing in the state of California. Upon passing the exam, individuals will be NREMT-certified. To take the exam, applicants must have completed a recognized EMT training program and be no younger than 18 years old. The exam covers emergency medical services questions, especially questions related to patient care techniques for children and adults. Those who successfully pass the exam will be certified for two years.

Success Tip:

  • Study recommended research materials. NREMT recommends that all exam candidates take plenty of time to review certain texts, such as EMT training manuals, updated CPR guidelines (as determined by the AHA), and any additional exam preparation texts. Each electronically administered test provides different questions at random, so there is no standard set of questions that will be asked on every exam. Nevertheless, some study guides may provide examples of how questions are asked, which may prove useful to some students.

Step 4: Meet California Licensing Requirements

After passing the NREMT exam, individuals must register with the emergency medical services (EMS) agency within their county. According to the EMSA, some EMS agencies have additional licensing requirements. For example, several EMS agencies may require applicants to pass a background check prior to becoming licensed EMTs in California.

Success Tip:

  • Contact your local EMS agency. To avoid problems, it is recommended that individuals contact their county EMS agencies to find out licensing regulations. California requires each EMT to be licensed through the county of employment, so individuals who work in multiple counties may need to meet licensing requirements in each of those regions.

Step 5: Get Hired

As of March 2012, the BLS reported that 48% of EMT positions are offered through ambulance companies. Records from the same year indicate that 17% of EMTs worked at hospitals or other private businesses. Local government agencies employed around 29% of EMTs, per the BLS.

Success Tip:

  • Advance to EMT-Intermediate. At the intermediate level, EMTs can do more tasks, such as administering medicine to patients. However, information from the EMSA indicates that California does not employ as many EMT-Intermediates. Nevertheless, to advance to this position, individuals will require additional classroom training, clinical experience, and a field internship with at least 24 hours of direct experience with the more advanced responsibilities. Individuals will also have to pass additional exams administered by the county of employment.
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