What Does an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Do? Responsibilities, Salaries, and More

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An emergency medical technician salary can vary by location, and more. Learn more about an emergency medical technician job description, the duties and responsibilities of an EMT and how to become an EMT.

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Emergency medical technician (EMT) is a fast-growing profession within the health care industry. An emergency medical technician's salary is about $36,930 [1] a year on average, depending on location and level of education. To become an EMT, you will need to earn a high school diploma or GED, complete a postsecondary educational EMT program and required training, and earn licensure within your state. 

What is the average annual salary of an EMT working in the US? 

An EMT's median annual salary of $36,930 calculates to roughly $17.76 an hour [1]. Each year, over 20,700 EMT and paramedic job openings become available in the US. 

Of all EMTs working in the US, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the top 10 percent earn more than $60,000 a year, while the lowest 10 percent earn $28,320 a year or below as of May 2021 [2]. Of the top industries hiring EMTs, local governments pay their EMTs an average of $37,440 a year; state, local and private hospitals $37,330 a year; and ambulance services pay EMTs an average of $36,180 a year.

What factors impact the salary of an EMT? 

Factors that may impact the salary of an EMT include location, employer, the population density of the area, qualifications, certifications, training, and overall education. 

As with other occupations, you can expect to see an EMT salary shift by location to account for the cost of living. Serving higher populations or denser areas like cities naturally equates to more calls per shift. EMTs working in these more densely populated areas may also be paid more to account for the busier, sometimes longer, shifts. 

Who you work for typically affects your salary as well, primarily because the duties of an EMT may look a little different based on your employer. Generally, government-run organizations like state police departments and hospitals will pay the most while private ambulance companies pay the least. 

Your overall level of education, which includes all certifications and training, can help you earn on the higher end of what an EMT makes on average, primarily if you specialize in a particular area, such as tactical rescue.

What’s the job outlook for EMTs? 

Between 2020 and 2030, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) expects the emergency medical technician profession to grow at an 11 percent rate [1]. The average growth rate for all occupations, according to BLS, is 8 percent. This makes the EMT field a faster than average growing profession in the US. 

Approximately 261,300 EMTs are employed in the US as of December 2020. [1] EMTs may work for government organizations, privately-owned organizations, medical and surgical centers, hospitals, outpatient care centers, and more. 

EMTs are an integral part of the entire emergency response team for a community. In addition to responding to 911 calls, some EMTs may also work “stand by” at major events like concerts, rallies, or other large gatherings. Experts predict the profession will continue to grow as the need for emergency medical care grows in the face of natural disasters, an aging population, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

What does an EMT do? Duties and responsibilities 

An EMT provides emergency onsite medical care and transportation for critically injured or ill individuals who require immediate medical assistance. An EMT provides this basic and critical medical care out of an ambulance, using the tools and resources available within the ambulance. Within the emergency medical technician job description, the goal of an EMT is to stabilize an individual and safely transport them to a medical facility that can further assist the patient. EMTs typically work in pairs or teams with other EMTs. 

Typical duties and responsibilities of an EMT include: 

  • Provide basic first-aid treatment as needed

  • Respond appropriately to emergency calls 

  • Assess a person’s condition and know how to provide proper medical care 

  • Put together an initial plan of care to quickly stabilize an individual in distress 

  • Provide life-saving medical interventions like CPR

  • Determine where to transport a patient for continuing care

  • Communicate clearly and effectively with other first responders and emergency medical staff, and personnel 

  • Maintain 12-hour shift schedules and on-call hours 

  • Document medical care given to patients 

  • Report patient observations to appropriate medical professionals  

While most EMTs drive and operate out of ambulances, some may also work out of other vehicles like helicopters or airplanes. 

Skills you’ll need to work as an EMT

Working as an EMT requires a high level of physical fitness and problem-solving skills needed to work effectively in high-stress situations. The ability to think fast, and act quickly, is an essential skill in this profession. You will likely meet people in a time of crisis, and they may need both physical and emotional care. Striking that balance can help you to be an effective EMT. 

A few vital personal skills you need to work as an EMT include: 

  • Fast decision-making 

  • Problem-solving 

  • Empathy and understanding 

  • Effective communication 

  • Good listening 

  • Patience 

  • Compassion and caring 

  • Mentally resilient 

Additionally, some critical technical skills of an EMT that you will learn as part of your emergency medical technician training include:

  • CPR 

  • Life support 

  • Vital signs 

  • Trauma skills

  • EMT-B

  • Various medical equipment found in an ambulance 

  • Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

How to become an emergency medical technician

You do not need a college degree to work as an EMT. You’ll need to have your high school diploma or GED to get started. Requirements for EMTs may vary by state when it comes to licensure exams. All EMTs, however, are required to pass nationally required EMT programs and licensure to become an EMT. 

Have your high school diploma or GED. 

Unlike many other professions in the health care industry, you don’t need to go to college and earn a degree to work as an EMT. As long as you are at least 18 years of age and hold a high school diploma or GED, you are eligible to enroll in an EMT program and earn the required certifications. 

Gain CPR certification. 

Your next step in becoming an EMT is to gain the required CPR certification. Organizations like the American Red Cross offer in-person and online CPR training courses that fulfill this CPR certification requirement. This step also involves not only gaining certification but also maintaining CPR certification. Most certifications need to be renewed at least every two years. 

Enroll in an EMT program. 

Look for an accredited, state-approved EMT program to complete your official EMT training. You’ll likely find these programs offered at local community colleges, fire stations, emergency training facilities, technical schools, or Red Cross. You can also check the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs website for an accredited EMT training program near you. 

You can explore both in-person and hybrid options. A hybrid option, which includes online and in-person training, may be more flexible if you're working, attending school, or have other full-time commitments. 

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Coursework for your EMT program includes various topics, from human anatomy to bleeding management, reading vital signs to obstetrics. Here are a few more examples of topics and skills you'll likely learn as you complete an EMT program:

  • Head injuries

  • Medical and ethical issues in health care

  • Properly lifting and moving a patient

  • Administering to children and infants

  • Trauma injuries

  • Pharmacological interventions

  • EMS operations

Most programs take one to two years to complete, or 120 to 150 credit hours. However, the EMT basic course can take as little as three to six weeks and prepares you for the licensure exam. The duration it takes you to pass an EMT program also depends on your coursework and career goals as an EMT. You can take additional coursework to further your options within the profession. 

Earn licensure.

Upon completing an accredited EMT program, it’s time to take your licensure examination. This exam is called the National Registry Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT) cognitive exam and is a test that involves both a cognition exam and a psychomotor exam portion. 

The cognition exam will test your knowledge of the critical subjects an entry-level EMT must know. These topics include cardiology, gynecology, respiration, trauma response, and more. The test is a computer adaptive test consisting of 60 to 110 questions. You can retake this exam as many as six times. After your sixth attempt, you will need to retake an EMT program before sitting for the exam again. 

National Registry psychomotor exams are coordinated by your state’s EMS office or educational institutions that provide this exam or training.  The exam uses simulated patients and scenarios that test the skills and knowledge you need to work as an EMT.

While it is dependent on your state, you can expect this exam to test your skills in assessing and managing a patient's condition and providing emergency medical care such as cardiac arrest management or oxygen administration.  You have two attempts to pass this exam. If you need to retake the exam a third time, you'll need to complete an accredited EMT program again.

Consider enrolling in an EMT certification test prep course to prepare for these exams. Along with test prep courses on Coursera, you can also learn more about specialties within the EMT profession like emergency care for pregnant women and infants or specific medical emergencies. This knowledge can help you when taking your exam and when trying to get a job as an EMT. 

Once you've passed both exams, you will be licensed to work as an EMT in your state. 

Apply for EMT jobs in your area. 

After meeting the requirements to work as an EMT in your state, it’s now time to apply for EMT jobs in your area. You might be surprised at how many opportunities there are to work as an EMT in your community, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Surgery centers

  • Private ambulance services

  • Fire departments

  • Police departments

  • Colleges and universities

  • Large hotels

  • Amusement parks

  • National parks

Consider where you’d like to work and if there’s a specific population you’d like to work with. For example, if you enjoy working with older people, you might try to apply for an EMT position that serves local nursing homes. 

Even if you’re unsure exactly where you want to serve as an EMT, organize your resume and start looking online at local job listings for openings in your area. Your resume should include details about your EMT program, certification, and any additional training and certifications you’ve gained. Be sure to highlight skills that would make you a successful EMT and have a few references who can speak to those skills. 

Next steps 

Take the next steps to become an EMT. Find accredited EMT programs in your area, prepare for EMT certification exams, and research nearby EMT positions to see what opportunities are available to you.

Consider the Become an EMT Specialization from the University of Colorado available on Coursera. You'll learn to care for stable and unstable patients before they get to a hospital, how to identify time-sensitive diseases and medical and traumatic conditions that affect both adults and pediatric patients.

EMTs are an integral part of the overall emergency response network. It can be a rewarding job that’s fast-paced and in demand. If your career goals involve being a part of the health care community and helping people, you may find satisfaction in starting your journey today as an EMT.  

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Become an EMT

EMT Medical and Trauma Emergency Care. Gain the skills needed to provide first responder emergency medical care

4.8

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26,407 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 7 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Emergency Medicine, Emergency Medical Technician, EMT, Trauma, Dentures, Foams, Toe, Decontamination, infant, ingestion, listening, emergency

Related articles

Article sources 

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: EMTs and Paramedics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/emts-and-paramedics.htm.” Accessed March 25, 2022. 

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: EMTs and Paramedics Pay, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/emts-and-paramedics.htm#tab-5. Accessed April 21, 2022.

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