What Does an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Do? Duties, Salary, and More

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Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) perform life-saving medical procedures on-site and in ambulances as patients are being transported to hospitals. Read on to learn more about this critical medical career and how to join the profession.

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Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) provide critical medical care to patients both on-site and in ambulance. A fast-growing profession within the health care industry, EMTs make a median annual salary of $36,930, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [1]. In this article, you'll learn more about what an EMT does, the skills they need to perform their life-saving responsibilities, their salary and job outlook, and how to become one. At the end, you'll also find recommended courses to help you get started today.

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. Making sure every second counts, EMTs perform this basic and critical medical care out of an ambulance, using the tools and resources available within it.

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. To ensure they provide the best possible care, though, EMTs typically work in pairs or teams with other EMTs rather than on their own. 

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. Typically, though, airborne EMS professionals are paramedics rather than EMTs.

Read more: EMT vs. Paramedic: What’s the Difference?

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 

  • Mental resiliency 

Additionally, some critical technical skills EMT must possess 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)procedures and operations

EMT salary

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for EMTs was $36,930 as of 2021 [1].

While the top 10 percent of earners in the field earned more than $60,000 a year, the lowest 10 percent made $28,320 annually as of May 2021.

What factors impact an EMT's salary? 

An EMT's salary is impacted by such common factors as location, employer, the population density of the area, qualifications, certifications, training, and prior work experience. Here are how some of those factors may impact your salary as an EMT:

Location

As with other occupations, you can expect to see an EMT's 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. 

Employer

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. 

Education

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 by 11 percent, leading to over 20,700 EMT and paramedic new job openings per year in the US [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. 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. 

How to become an emergency medical technician

You do not need a college degree to work as an EMT, but you will need to have your high school diploma or GED, gain the proper qualifications, and become licensed by your state.

While the exact requirements to become an EMT vary from state to state, there are some common steps that you can expect to complete:

1. 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. 

2. 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. 

3. 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. 

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 time 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. 

4. Earn licensure.

Upon completing an accredited EMT program, you'll become qualified 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 exam 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 the psychomotor 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. 

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

5. 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. 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.  

The University of Colorado's Become an EMT Specialization will introduce you to the 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.

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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 December 21, 2022. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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