A guide to becoming an EMT in 2024

Last updated: May 28, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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A guide to becoming an EMT in 2024
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Have you ever thought about becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT)? EMTs work closely with paramedics and respond to emergency calls.

This is a fast-paced healthcare role, and if you choose this pathway, you’ll be supporting others in your community.

Right now, there are around ​​261,000 EMT jobs in the US. The job outlook for this career is good, with 7% more jobs — 17,900 additional positions — set to be created over the next 10 years.

How can you get into this field? You won’t need an advanced degree, but there are a few requirements you’ll need to meet.

To help you get a job as an EMT, we’ve put together this step-by-step guide. Read on because we’ll explain how you can become an EMT and the types of skills you’ll need for the job.

What is an EMT?

Emergency medical technicians are healthcare professionals. When people dial 911, EMTs are called to provide medical assistance. For example, they can be there after motor vehicle collisions or natural disasters.

EMTs work with paramedics and travel by ambulance. They give basic first aid and support healthcare teams.

An EMT’s duties include making patient assessments, applying bandages, and administering CPR. They also help get patients into ambulances and transfer them to hospital departments.

EMTs collaborate with dispatchers and hospital staff and keep physicians updated with patients’ conditions. They keep accurate records and answer patient questions.

EMTs make sure their work vehicle is stocked with supplies and re-order inventory as required.

47% of EMTs work for ambulance services. The rest work for the government, private hospitals, and administrative support services.

While EMTs commonly work full-time, there are also plenty of part-time roles available. Ambulance services require round-the-clock availability, so EMTs are expected to work day and night shifts, as well as on holidays and weekends.

In some settings, EMT shifts can be 12 hours long.

How much does an EMT make?

If you’re considering this career, you may be wondering about your potential salary. In the US, EMTs make an average of $36,930 per year or $17.76 per hour.

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The amount you make will depend on where you live and your education and experience. The lowest earners make $11.36 per hour, while those in the top percentile make up to $22.88 per hour.

Let’s say you live in Alaska. Emergency medical techs in this area have an average annual salary of $51,330. In Maryland, the average is $50,770 per year, and in Illinois, it’s $44,460 per year.

In Texas, EMTs make around $34,070 per year, and in Pennsylvania, the median yearly salary is $33,450.

If you decide to upskill and become a paramedic, the average salary is $22.48 per hour. The lowest earners make $16.55 per hour, while the top earners can make up to $35.67 per hour.

How can you become an EMT?

Want to work in an emergency care setting? You can have a rewarding career as an emergency medical technician.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take before you get the job:

1. Meet the minimum requirements

Before you start looking at education courses, make sure you have the basics. To become an EMT, you should be 18 years or older.

However, there can be exceptions to this in some states. If you have your parents’ permission, you may be able to enroll in training at 16 or 17 years of age.

Next, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent.

This role involves transporting patients in ambulances, so a valid driver’s license is also required.

This is a fast-paced career, and EMTs can be put in stressful situations. You should be able to remain cool and calm under pressure and confident during emergencies.

2. Learn CPR

EMTs learn about basic life-saving treatments during their training. But before they start studying, they’ll usually need to complete a first aid course.

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For example, you’ll need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

CPR is a technique that uses either chest compression or compression and mouth-to-mouth to save someone’s life. During your CPR training, you’ll learn how to perform this treatment correctly in a range of situations.

You’ll need to take a refresher course every two years for your CPR certification to remain valid.

3. Enroll in an EMT program

The education requirements for EMTs aren’t as intensive as they are in other healthcare pathways.

You won’t need an advanced degree to work in this role, and most training programs take less than two years to complete.

During your training, you’ll gain both practical skills and theoretical knowledge. EMT students focus on a range of medical emergencies, including cardiac arrests, traumatic injuries, and blocked airways. They also learn how to assess patients and keep records.

Keep in mind that there are different EMT levels, each with unique educational requirements.

For example, you’ll need more in-depth education if you want to be an advanced EMT. At this higher level, you’ll learn about giving fluids and administering medication.

Community colleges, technical schools, and universities can all offer EMT programs.

EMTs sometimes go on to become paramedics. In addition to EMT certification, paramedics need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

4. Pass an exam

In most states, a national certification is required before you can start working as an EMT. Once you’ve completed your training, you’ll have to pass a practical exam and a written exam.

You’ll need to pay an application fee and schedule a time to take these tests.

You can usually book your exam time online, but you’ll have to attend in person. Make sure you have your identification documents with you and arrive early on the day of the test.

The practical component will test your hands-on skills to see how you’d perform in an emergency. The second section of the examination will be a multiple-choice quiz.

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You’ll need to get a passing score to become certified. If you’re successful, you can apply for your EMT license.

If you don’t pass the first time, you’ll likely be able to retake both exams at a later date.

5. Pass a background check

EMTs work with people in vulnerable situations. The safety of the public and healthcare professionals is a priority, so a background check is required.

Depending on where you live, the background check may be part of the certification process. Or it may be a step taken by your potential employer.

The background check is used to verify your details, education, and previous employment.

A criminal background check will be part of this screening process. It’ll go back seven years or more and show any previous felonies or misdemeanors you’ve had.

Some issues will impact your career more than others. For example, drug-related crimes or assaults will usually be red flags in the healthcare field.

There’ll also be a driving record check. This check will verify the validity of your driver’s license and show any driving-related offenses from your past.

6. Start work

Once you’ve finished your EMT training program, got your certification, and passed the background check, you’ll be ready to work.

Most employers offer on-the-job training for new EMTs. These programs will boost your hands-on skills while giving you confidence in the role. You can expect to work with a mentor while you get field experience.

You’ll attend emergencies and offer support to other EMTs and paramedics.

To get started, look for EMT positions on our job board. And don’t forget to update your resume as needed.

What skills do you need to be an EMT?

This can be a unique and fulfilling role, but it isn’t suitable for everyone. If you want to work as an EMT, here are some of the essential skills you’ll need for the job:

Communication skills

One of the most important soft skills for an EMT to possess is good communication. EMTs provide patient care in a range of situations. People at the scene of an emergency can be distressed, confused, angry, or in shock.

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An EMT with strong, confident communication skills can explain to patients what’s happening and help keep them calm.

For example, an EMT may be called to a medical emergency after a car accident. A passenger may be injured but scared to leave the vehicle. In this situation, the EMT needs to be compassionate and use their interpersonal skills to offer the patient reassurance.

EMTs also need to be able to communicate well with other healthcare professionals, including paramedics, nurses, and physicians. They often need to speak to hospital staff and emergency call operators over the phone.

Medical knowledge

EMTs support paramedics in providing life-saving care. They provide basic services until the patient can be transported to a hospital.

These services include checking blood pressure, supporting neck injuries, bandaging wounds, and administering CPR.

EMTs also monitor patients during transport and make sure their condition doesn’t get worse. They keep records and give hospitals information about the patient and their health.

All of these tasks require medical knowledge. From understanding medical jargon to performing their daily duties to a high standard, EMTs should be confident and knowledgeable.

The good news is you’ll gain medical knowledge as an EMT both during your training and in the workplace.

Problem-solving skills

EMTs and paramedics need problem-solving skills. They can face a wide variety of situations, and no two shifts are ever the same.

Because they’re called to emergency scenes, EMTs need to be able to act fast without hesitation. For example, a patient may need a wound bandaged or resuscitation — situations in which there’s no time to lose.

Sometimes, a patient may be difficult to access or require two people for emergency care. Strong problem-solving skills will help you provide patients with the best possible care, even if you have limited resources.

Empathy

You can’t be successful in the healthcare field without empathy. Empathy helps you understand your patients’ needs.

With this skill, you’ll be able to provide treatment while making patients feel calm and understood.

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For example, a patient undergoing a traumatic experience is likely to feel anxious and upset. An empathetic EMT would help put them at ease.

Teamwork

Finally, there’s teamwork and reliability. EMTs work closely with others, and they need to support the rest of their team.

For example, EMTs and paramedics often travel in vehicles together. While one person drives the ambulance, another will sit with the patient on the way to the hospital.

EMTs can also work with police officers and firefighters.

EMTs need to keep their team members updated with patients’ statuses. They also need to be reliable. An EMT who is late for their shift can impact their whole team.

What’s the difference between an EMT and a paramedic?

EMTs and paramedics perform similar duties. They both travel via ambulances to emergency scenes and support patients in need.

However, paramedics have a senior role. They can perform more advanced treatments and administer medications. For example, a paramedic can deliver a baby, apply a pacemaker, or insert a breathing tube.

EMTs need supervision in the workplace, while paramedics have all the skills required for emergency medical care.

Remember when we spoke about education? EMTs only need a certificate, whereas paramedics need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Where to find an EMT job

When you’re ready, you can start looking for EMT job openings. Head to our job board and browse EMT positions near you. Alternatively, if you have the right qualifications, you can look for paramedic positions.

Our service is free, and you can sign up for job alerts, use our resume builder, join ‌our community discussions, and create a professional profile.

Getting hired as an EMT

Are you interested in a fast-paced healthcare career? Consider becoming a first responder with a role as an EMT.

Before you can work in this role, you’ll need to meet the minimum requirements. For example, you should be over 18 years old and have CPR certification. You’ll also need to complete an EMT training program.

Once you’ve completed your training, you’ll have to pass an exam. There are two parts to this exam, and you’ll need a passing score to get your EMT license.

EMTs also need to pass a comprehensive background check.

There are a few essential skills to be an EMT. You’ll need excellent communication skills, empathy, medical knowledge, and problem-solving abilities. Plus, you need to be a team player.

Ready to start work? Visit our job board, or consult our resource center for other informative articles.

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