Emergency Medical Technician (EMT): Duties, Salary, and More

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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.

[Featured Image]: A man with short black hair and a mustache. He is wearing a black and white jacket. He has a stethoscope around his neck. He is standing in front of an ambulance.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) provide critical medical care to patients both on-site and in ambulances on their way to the hospital. Key members of the emergency medical services (EMS), EMTs are often the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency, where they provide basic life-saving care to those in need. If you're interested in a fast-paced medical profession, then you might consider a career as an EMT. 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. A paramedic is an advanced EMT who has received additional training and is qualified to perform more complex procedures.

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 and job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), EMTs earn a median annual salary of $35,470 as of May 2021 [1]. Between 2021 and 2031, the US BLS (BLS) expects the the need for EMTs and paramedics to grow by seven percent, leading to over 20,000 EMT and paramedic new job openings per year in the US [2].

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 EMT

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, here are some common steps that you can expect to complete:

1. Obtain 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. 

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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. 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.

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. 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.  You might be surprised at how many opportunities there are to work as an EMT in your community, including at:

  • 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. 

Next steps 

EMTs perform life-saving procedures every day. If you're interested in a fast-paced health care position, then you might consider preparing for a career as an EMT by taking a cost-effective, flexible course through Coursera.

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.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: EMTs and Paramedics, Pay, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/emts-and-paramedics.htm.” Accessed February 17, 2023. 

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