Becoming an EMT is a great way to help people in your community, and it can also be a very rewarding career. But it’s not as easy as just signing up for a class. There are training, licensing, and certification requirements that you need to meet before you can start working as an EMT.
In this article, we break down how to become an EMT, from start to finish.
After our walkthrough of how to become an EMT, there’s information on what it’s like to be an EMT, salary and job outlook, medical careers beyond being an EMT, and more.
EMT Experience and Healthcare Internships Abroad
Working with patients as an EMT is a great way to get healthcare experience, especially if you’re interested in going into a medical career.
Physician shadowing, engaging in community health projects, and working with underserved populations are also invaluable experiences for anyone interested in health professions like medicine, physician assistant studies, nursing, dentistry, and more.
So, whether it’s meeting the required patient care hours for PA school, or gaining pre-med experience to craft a competitive medical school application, International Medical Aid’s healthcare internships abroad provide memories and insights that last a lifetime.
Now, let’s dive into how to become an EMT.
There are six main EMT requirements. As we get into the details of how to become an EMT, we’ll cover the ins and outs for each of these EMT requirements.
1 – Meet the prerequisites for enrolling in an EMT training program, including BLS-CPR certification.
2 – Complete an EMT training course.
3 – Pass the NREMT (or state) cognitive exam.
4 – Pass the NREMT (or state) psychomotor exam.
5 – Obtain NREMT (or state) certification.
6 – Meet state EMT requirements and obtain a license.
How to Get Into an EMT Training Program
When learning about how to become an EMT, you’ll usually see the first step listed as taking an EMT training course. However, in order to enroll in an EMT training program, you’ll need to satisfy a few requirements.
You need a high school diploma or GED for most EMT training programs. You also need to be 18 years-old. In a few states, you may begin your EMT career during highschool.
You also need to be BLS certified to attend an EMT training course in most states.
Basic Life Support (BLS) training teaches you the skills you need to treat a patient who is not breathing or does not have a pulse. You’ll learn how to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED). BLS and CPR skills are basic EMR and EMT requirements.
Most EMT training programs will require you to have BLS certification by the American Red Cross and American Heart Association, or an equivalent.
In many cases, you need a driver’s license as well. This is so you can learn how to drive an ambulance.
Finally, check the EMT training programs offered in your area for any other prerequisites that may be required.
How to Become an EMT: State-Certified EMT Training
All states require you to successfully complete an accredited EMT training program to become licensed.
You can find accredited EMT training programs at many community colleges, technical schools, and even some hospitals.
EMT training programs typically take about four to six months to complete but can vary depending on the state you’re in.
During your EMT training, you’ll learn how to assess and treat patients who are experiencing a medical emergency. You’ll also learn how to use medical equipment and respond to different types of emergencies.
EMT training programs will include both classroom and practical instruction. You’ll spend time in the classroom learning about different medical conditions and how to treat them. You’ll also spend time in a lab so you can practice your skills on mannequins and real patients.
You’ll also have the opportunity to ride along with paramedics and EMTs as part of your training.
NREMT Exam or State EMT Exam
In order to become a licensed EMT, you need to pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam or state equivalent.
These states don’t recognize NREMT certification as a requirement for licensure: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington.
In states that don’t use the NREMT, an equivalent state exam is administered.
What Is on the NREMT Exam?
State EMT exams are often quite similar to the NREMT, so the following information is still useful for those who live in states that administer their own exams. Still, it’s best to refer to your state EMS office for study guides and specific information about your state’s EMT exam.
The NREMT exam has two components: a cognitive exam and a psychomotor exam.
The cognitive exam is taken on a computer and its questions are written by a board of EMT specialists. Each question is current and clinically relevant. The incorrect answers, while plausible, are never partially correct.
The content of the exam focuses on what EMTs do in the field. There is no specific textbook or resource the NREMT draws from when crafting the exam.
The NREMT cognitive exam contains questions from five different categories. Those categories are:
- Airway, respiration, and ventilation
- Cardiology and resuscitation
- EMS Operations
The cognitive exam is a computer-adaptive test. Computer-adaptive tests adjust the difficulty or subject of the questions in response to the test taker’s answers.
Here’s how it works. Each question is categorized under a certain subject and difficulty level. When you get a question right, you’re given a slightly more difficult question. When you answer incorrectly, you’re given a slightly easier question.
In this way, the testing algorithm is trying to determine how much you know about a certain subject. If you continue to get answers correct as the difficulty rises, you’ll quickly demonstrate proficiency in that subject. If the computer is unsure of your knowledge of a subject, it will keep asking you questions about that subject.
As you take the test, the computer records your overall performance. As the test continues, the computer’s estimation of your knowledge level gets more accurate. Once the computer is over 95% certain that your real proficiency is above or below the standard for passing, the exam will end.
Computer-adaptive tests, as opposed to standardized tests, are not graded based on how many questions you get right or wrong. Instead, you’re either passing or not passing, based on the computer’s estimation of your proficiency. If you’re testing consistently above the passing standard, the test will end more quickly.
What Is on the EMT Psychomotor Exam?
The psychomotor exam (or “practical exam”) is an in-person evaluation of your ability to perform as an EMT.
The psychomotor exams are administered by state EMS offices or institutions acting in coordination with the state. Sometimes, the institution that provided your EMT training will be able to administer the psychomotor exam.
The exam has six stations. You need to pass all of them to pass the psychomotor exam. Here’s what’s on the EMT practical exam:
- Static Cardiology
- Dynamic Cardiology
- The Integrated Out-of-Hospital Scenario
Obtain EMT Licensure
After you’ve completed your training and passed both the cognitive and psychomotor exams, you’re ready to apply for licensure.
The EMT certification you received by the NREMT or other testing institution attests that you are qualified to work as an EMT. To legally work as an EMT, you need a license to practice from the state you live/work in.
States vary in what they require for licensure, so contact your state EMS office for specific instructions. Generally, you will need to submit an application, pay a fee, and provide proof that you’ve completed an EMT training program and passed the NREMT exams.
Once you’re licensed in your state, you’re ready to start working as an EMT.
In most cases, your license will need to be renewed every two years. The renewal process is usually similar to the initial licensure process, but again, requirements vary from state to state.
EMT vs EMS vs AEMT vs Paramedic
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) is a title used in many parts of the world for a health care provider who primarily provides pre-hospital and out-of-hospital care and transport of patients with acute medical problems and/or injuries. In many states, there are two levels of EMTs. EMT-b (basic) and EMT-i (intermediate).
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is a system that provides emergency medical care. It is usually dispatch-based and consists of first responders (such as police officers, firefighters, and EMTs/paramedics) as well as a system for transporting patients to definitive care.
AEMT stands for Advanced Emergency Medical Technician. AEMTs are EMTs who are licensed to use more advanced medicine and medical equipment. In some stands, AEMT is a recognized title instead of EMT-i.
A Paramedic provides more advanced pre-hospital and out-of-hospital care than an EMT. In some jurisdictions, the scope of practice of a paramedic varies between that of an EMT and that of a doctor or nurse. In general, Paramedics provide critical care with access to complicated medical equipment and more drugs than an EMT.
In the United States, the National EMS Education Standards define the scope of practice of an EMT as “to provide pre-hospital assessment, management, and transportation of the sick and injured for a variety of medical and trauma problems within their legal scope of practice.”
What Qualities Should an EMT Have?
If you’re considering a career as an EMT, there are certain qualities you should have to be successful. Here are some of the qualities that will help you succeed as an EMT:
- Ability to handle stress and remain calm in difficult situations
- Excellent communication skills
- Empathy for others
- Physical strength and stamina
- Quick thinking and decision-making skills
- Ability to work independently
- Ability to memorize and follow procedures and rules
If you have these qualities, you may be well-suited for a career as an EMT.
EMT Salary and Career Outlook
The median annual salary for an EMT is $36,930. The top 10% of EMTs earn more than $60,000, while the bottom 10% earn less than $28,320.
The job outlook for EMTs is good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of EMTs and paramedics will grow by 11% from 2020 to 2030.
What Is It like to Be an EMT?
Working as an EMT can be both rewarding and challenging. You’ll need to be able to handle stress and remain calm in difficult situations. You’ll also need to be able to think quickly and make decisions on the fly.
But being an EMT can also be very rewarding. You’ll have the opportunity to help people in their time of need and make a difference in your community. You also have very personal interactions with the people you serve and their families.
Part of how to become an EMT is learning to exercise patience and humility on a daily basis. Many situations EMTs respond to involve people who are experiencing the worst day of their life. They or their family may be drunk, angry, or scared. It is essential that EMTs are able to remain calm and compassionate in these situations.
While EMTs respond to critical situations and sometimes decide the difference between life or death, a lot of their job involves responding to less critical calls. While these calls may not be as exciting, they are still essential to the job.
What Other Jobs Can Certified EMTs Pursue?
Now that you know how to become an EMT, you may be wondering, “what other jobs can certified EMTs pursue?”
There are several different jobs your EMT certification will make you well-positioned for. Here are some of the most popular options:
Emergency medical dispatcher: Emergency medical dispatchers are responsible for receiving and managing calls from the public who need medical assistance. They then dispatch the appropriate response team to the scene.
Firefighter: Many firefighters are also certified EMTs. As a firefighter, you’ll respond to fires, but you’ll also be responsible for providing medical assistance to the public.
Medical Assistant: Medical assistants provide support to doctors and nurses in a variety of medical settings. They may take vital signs, administer first aid, or perform other basic medical tasks.
First Aid Instructor: As a first aid instructor, you’ll teach people how to provide basic medical assistance. This can be a rewarding job if you enjoy teaching and helping others.
Lifeguard: Many lifeguards are also certified EMTs. As a lifeguard, you’ll be responsible for responding to medical emergencies at the pool or beach. You’ll also be responsible for preventing accidents and injuries.
Medical Careers Beyond EMT
The kind of experience EMTs gain on the job is excellent for pursuing careers in medicine.
Becoming a Physician Assistant, for instance, is common career development for EMTs. Working as an EMT fulfills the patient care hours for PA school and the experience gained is very attractive to schools.
Other medical roles that EMTs often pursue are: Registered Nurse, Physician, Dentist, and even Veterinarian.
EMT experience, combined with physician shadowing and internships like IMA’s healthcare internships abroad can give you the perfect foundation to start a medical career.
Remember, if you’re interested in pursuing a medical career but becoming an EMT doesn’t sound like the right fit for you, don’t worry. There are many other ways to get experience in the medical field.