What Does a Paramedic Do? (And How to Become One)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Working as a paramedic is an exciting and rewarding career path. Learn more about the role of a paramedic, what training and education are necessary to start a paramedic career, and more with this comprehensive guide to a career as a paramedic.

[Featured Image]: A woman with short dark hair, is wearing a white paramedic uniform. She has a stethoscope around her neck. She is standing in front of an ambulance at the entrance of the emergency room of a hospital.

Paramedics respond to emergencies, usually via an ambulance, and provide medical care to patients on the scene and on their way to a nearby hospital or medical facility.

A career as a paramedic can be exciting, rewarding, and fast-paced. If you're looking for a health care career that requires you to think on your feet and allows you to provide life-saving care in the real world, then consider joining this important medical position. In this comprehensive career guide, you'll explore the role of a paramedic and what it takes to become one, from education and training to the human skills you'll need to possess to excel at the job.  In the end, you'll also find suggested online courses to help you gain the critical job skills needed to save lives.

What does a paramedic do?   

Paramedics are first responders. When someone is sick, injured, or requires transportation to a hospital or other medical facility, paramedics are members of the emergency medical team that arrives first on the scene to provide care and ensure patients remain in stable condition. During an emergency, paramedics must evaluate the situation, provide any necessary medical care, and then, if needed, continue to provide care in an ambulance or other emergency vehicle to help their patients get to the right medical professionals who can help them further. As a result, paramedics must possess medical and health care knowledge and be physically capable of safely transporting patients to emergency vehicles.

Paramedics may treat all sorts of patients, ranging from those who have trouble breathing to those in a severe car accident. In many cases, a person's life may be at stake. Most paramedics drive or ride along in an ambulance, but some work with critically ill patients in helicopters and aeroplanes. Some may also ride along on fire trucks. 

What are the primary duties and responsibilities of a paramedic?

For most paramedics, each day will bring something new. Where you work can also impact your daily duties and responsibilities. On average, they might include:  

  • Responding to emergency 999 calls 

  • Evaluating patients at various scenes (such as car accidents, in their homes, or public places) 

  • Providing first aid as necessary 

  • Providing life support as necessary 

  • Transferring patients from the scene to a stretcher and into an ambulance

  • Transporting patients to hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities 

  • Communicating with doctors and nurses about a patient's condition 

  • Keeping comprehensive notes on a patient's condition 

  • Cleaning and maintaining supplies inside an ambulance  

Paramedics may face various medical or trauma situations daily when providing medical care. These might include:  

  • Performing CPR and other cardiac support

  • Taking vital signs

  • Helping someone with a blocked airway by performing quick respiratory procedures

  • Setting up an IV

  • Stabilising head, neck, and back injuries, as well as broken bones 

  • Cleaning and bandaging wounds 

  • Delivering babies in emergencies 

  • Administering medication 

Paramedics vs EMTs 

Many people confuse paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) with one another. Still, the truth is that paramedics are more advanced EMTs who are trained to provide more sensitive and complex care. In effect, while they may work together on the same emergency response team, paramedics are the lead members with the most education and training.

However, one way to become a paramedic is first to become an EMT. During their training, EMTs learn how to assess an emergency and determine what type of medical treatment is necessary. They can also administer basic treatments, like CPR or splinting a broken bone. If you are an EMT who wants to become a paramedic, you'll have to take part in much more extensive training that builds on these skills and teaches you how to do even more to help save someone's life.  

What qualifications and certifications are required to become a paramedic?

There are a few different ways to enter the role of a paramedic. The main ways are either through university or relevant work experience. To find the best path for you, consider your desired level of education and how much work experience you have.

Obtaining a Paramedic Science Degree at a university

To enter the field of Paramedics through a university degree, you must study a paramedic science degree approved by the Health and Care Professions Council. This degree typically takes three years, and you will need two or three A levels or equivalent [1].


A paramedic degree apprenticeship is another common route to becoming a paramedic. To start an apprenticeship, you must be 16 years old and not in full-time education. While there aren’t any requirements for entering a paramedic apprenticeship, it helps to have 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent. 

Working experience as an EMT

By starting your career as an Emergency Medical Technician, you will gain key skills and knowledge that could transfer to a paramedic training scheme. The paramedic training scheme would allow you to complete your university paramedic qualifications while working and gaining real-world experience.

During your EMT or EMT-B training, you'll learn how to handle situations that require basic first aid or life support. You'll learn how to assess a scene and help determine what kind of medical care a person needs, and you'll learn how to transport a patient safely and quickly to a hospital. You will most likely know how to deliver a baby, splint broken bones, when administer medication, administer oxygen, and save someone in cardiac or respiratory distress.  

Getting into good physical condition while training to become an EMT is important. After all, you'll need to be fast, and you'll potentially lift people on a daily basis.  

After you've gained some experience and met any other requirements, you'll want to apply to an accredited paramedic programme. You can often find these at technical and vocational colleges and community colleges.

How long does it take to train as a paramedic?

How long it takes to train as a paramedic can vary based on where you live, your chosen program, and your career goals. Your initial paramedic training programme can range from 120 to 190 hours, and you can typically complete it between six months and one year. After you complete your EMT training, it's recommended that you work as an EMT for six months to one year, which means one to two years of education and work experience before entering your paramedic training. 

Your paramedic training course can take up to two years and lasts 1,200 to 1,800 hours. You may even complete the programme with a foundational degree to your name sometimes. In total, your path to becoming a paramedic can take between three and four years. You may also be required to update your training from time to time.  

What other skills do I need to become a paramedic?

In addition to medical training, you must possess specific human skills to become a paramedic, like working under pressure and making quick decisions. The job is physically and mentally demanding, so you'll need to be strong. Look below at some other essential skills you'll need to possess. 


Compassion is a trait required to work in health care, but it's crucial for a paramedic career. The role of a paramedic is to assess what is often an emergency and determine what type of medical care is required. However, you'll also find that you're dealing with patients and their families who are often scared and upset. The more compassionate you can be when working with them, the better they'll feel.  


Communication is so vital for paramedics that it is often recommended they enroll in some postsecondary communication courses while training.

First, you'll work with a team that might include other paramedics, EMTs, and firefighters. You may also encounter firefighters, police officers, and other first responders on the scene of an accident. You must be able to communicate effectively with them. You'll also need to listen to and communicate clearly with your patients and their loved ones.

Finally, when you transport a patient to the hospital or other medical facility, you'll often have to communicate their condition to the doctors and nurses on the scene.  


Problem-solving is crucial because you will often find someone's life is in your hands. When you take inventory of their symptoms or injuries, you'll need to think quickly and determine the best treatment to keep them stable or even save their lives.

Where can I work once I’m qualified as a paramedic?

Paramedics often work on ambulances, but you have many options that you may need to be aware of. Paramedics may also work long or unusual hours. Some work 12-hour or 24-hour shifts, and some work nights, weekends, and holidays. You may even find that your schedule varies from week to week. Here are some of the places you might work as a paramedic: 

  • Firehouses: Many paramedics work out of their local firehouses and respond to community calls. They may ride along on fire trucks or drive separate ambulances to emergencies.    

  • Medical flights: Some paramedics undergo additional training and work on medical flights. In these situations, they often work on helicopters with patients who require critical care and transportation from a rural location to a hospital or from a smaller hospital to a more advanced one.  

  • Hospitals: Some hospitals employ paramedics as emergency technicians in their emergency rooms. Over the last few decades, this has happened more frequently to help with understaffed emergency departments.   

  • Ships: There are often opportunities to work as a paramedic aboard cruise ships. Here, you might work alongside a doctor and nurse.   

  • SWAT teams: If you're interested in law enforcement and a paramedic career, consider joining a SWAT team. You'll find yourself on hand for dangerous police activity to treat injured people. 

  • On location: Sometimes, you may work as a paramedic on-site at specific events. These could be one-time events, like music festivals, or you might work at a vacation resort or a stadium.  

How much do paramedics earn? 

According to the National Career Service, paramedics earn a median annual salary of £43,000 as of May 2024 [1]. Where you work can also impact your salary. For example, paramedics working in urban areas make more than those in rural communities. Your experience level and the type of employer you work for can also impact how much you earn. 

Career progression

Paramedics start as EMTs, but once they've completed their paramedic training, they may choose to advance or move on to a new career. This might involve completing the training required to become a flight medic or work with a SWAT team. Some choose to go on to work in emergency departments as emergency technicians. 

The physical stress and schedule of working as a paramedic can become tiring after a certain period. For this reason, many people choose to continue their education while they work and eventually select another health care career, like becoming a registered nurse (RN) or physician assistant. Some even go on to complete medical degree courses and become doctors themselves. Working as an EMT and paramedic provides you with the human skills and medical background needed to advance in almost any direction in the health care field. 

Get started today with Coursera.

Ready to start your path to an exciting, in-demand paramedic career? Start by training to become an EMT by gaining foundational knowledge in a cost-effective, flexible Course on Coursera. In the University of Colorado's Become an EMT Specialisation, 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 paediatric patients.

Article sources

  1. National Career Service. “Paramedic, https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/paramedic.” Accessed May 31, 2024.

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