What do you want to become?
Emergency Medical Technician
Alternate Career Titles: EMT
Career Overview: These professionals care for the sick for injured in emergency scenarios.
Career Salary Range: $21,240 to $56,310
Estimated Period of Schooling Required: 8 to 11 weeks
Required Minimum Degree/License: Postsecondary educational program and license
Become a Emergency Medical Technician
Emergency Medical Technicians (or “EMTs”) are responsible for providing healthcare to those who are either sick or injured and in emergency situations. This involves responding to 911 calls, assessing a patient’s immediate condition to determine a course of action and often providing first-aid or life support. Thus, patient lives can depend on the ability and experience of a EMT to handle a given scenario. For many of these professionals saving lives is the greatest reward, but to others the stress and and responsibility can be overwhelming. This is why learners should individually determine if there are any cons of EMS before entering the career in healthcare.
These professionals must act quickly, with the goal typically being to transport the patient to an emergency mode of transportation and then a hospital/healthcare facility. Once they arrive at these locations, Emergency Medical Technicians report all observations and treatments to the healthcare staff, document these procedures and then proceed to take inventory of, replace and clean/decontaminate all supplies used during the patient transfer.
“A career as an EMT can be described as intense, fast-paced, slow-paced, very rewarding at times and very heartbreaking at times. It is not your typical 9 to 5 routine career,” Tiffany Chugg, an Emergency Medical Technician in Kansas City, Mo., explained.
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Education & Training
To become an Emergency Medical Technician, professionals must complete a postsecondary educational program in emergency medical technology and obtain state licensure. These programs involve hours of specialized instruction on how to handle emergency situations.
“The education for EMT includes class time and also ride time on the ambulance. We also did 12 hour shifts in the Emergency Room,” Chugg said. “If you didn’t study, then yes, it could be difficult, but if you took the time to read and learn what the instructors went over, then it was not as hard.”
She added that her training took about 5 months to complete, and that she only went to class on Tuesday and Thursdays from 6 pm to 10 pm. After this program, professionals must obtain state licensure and some choose to additionally pursue an Associate’s Degree.
“I think some of the challenges during the program were doing ride time in the ambulance, because you were a student riding with these seasoned EMTs and Paramedics. You wanted to learn, but also didn’t want to look like you had no clue what you were doing,” Chugg expressed.
To advance within this career in healthcare, Emergency Medical Technicians can pursue more advanced instruction to learn procedures, such as how to administer intravenous fluids/medications. Additionally, EMTs can fulfill the educational/certification requirements to become a Paramedic, enabling them to also administer oral and intravenous medications and to interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs). Of course many EMTs go on to become full-time firefighters.
“If an EMT wanted to become a Paramedic, I believe that takes about a year and a half,” Chugg noted. “They learn more skills, such as how to start IVs, drug calculations, reading the cardiac monitor, etc.” What EMTs can do versus Paramedics depends on local and state regulations.
Other forms of increased education, such as obtaining an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree can also pave the way to greater advancement opportunities in this career in healthcare.
Experience & Skills
“You do not need any experience before becoming an EMT. I went in there without any medical knowledge at all,” Chugg said. “The programs teach you what you need to know, and the rest is up to you to educate yourself more after you have received your license.”
However, problem-solving skills are imperative to the role of an Emergency Medical Technician. This is because these professionals must be able to properly evaluate patients’ symptoms and use logical reasoning to determine which treatments or medications will best assist their situation. Communication skills are also critically important, as EMTs must be able to converse with a patient to determine what they are experiencing, and then with their team to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of treatments/procedures. Physical strength is another important quality of EMTs because they are often required to move, lift or transition patients in need. Kneeling and bending are other motions which EMTs perform frequently.
“I would recommend EMTs have a learning personality,” Chugg sad. “They should be someone who wants to get in there and learn, but also someone who does not come in with an arrogant personality. That gets you nowhere and will be put in your spot real quick.”
Ultimately, Emergency Medical Technicians should possess great compassion and empathy. Emergency scenarios can be extremely stressful and emotional, but these professionals must be able to maintain composure to best service their patients. EMTs should also be great listeners to determine a patient’s needs, or the extent of their injuries for illnesses. Furthermore, they should have great speaking and overall interpersonal skills in order to work closely with healthcare teams and to explain procedures to patients, give instructions and relay information.
“A lot of people in Emergency Medical Services have type A personalities. We are very head strong and know what we want and need to do, but also know when we need to back down,” Chugg added.
Typically, EMTs work both indoors and outdoors and in all types of weather. Due to the nature of their profession, dealing with life or death situations, the role can be both physically strenuous and mentally tasking. The physical element of a career as a Emergency Medical Technician, including kneeling, bending and lifting, can also lead to more injuries and illnesses than in other occupations.
“I worked for a smaller ambulance service in Raytown, Mo. for 4 years after I got my license. We worked 24 hours on and 48 hours off. I’m not sure if I even really had a life, because I was working so much,” Chugg said.
She further explained that occasionally her shifts would continue throughout the night and she would not get any sleep. Chugg explained that these shifts often resulted from being short-staffed, and were indeed mentally and physically draining.
“Now I work for Children’s Mercy Kansas City, on the Critical Care Transport Team. I have been there 6 years now,” Chugg said. “I have the weekend option so I work every Saturday and Sunday.”
Here she said the hours are much easier on her, working only 12-hour shifts and having to take 10 hours off between shifts to prevent fatigue. Additionally, her new employer does not allow EMT professionals to work more than 5 shifts in a row.
“My lifestyle with this career is much better than the previous. I’m able to spend more time with my family and friends and do more things I love to do, like travel,” Chugg said.
From 2016 to 2026, employment of Emergency Medical Technicians is projected to grow 15 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth can largely be attributed to an aging population which may experienced increasing health-related emergencies (i.e. heart attacks, strokes, etc.). With more emergencies, healthcare providers will need to employ more EMTS.
“Finding a career at times as an EMT can be hard, especially if you are wanting to work on an ambulance,” Chugg said. “However, EMTs can be techs in hospital emergency rooms, work at the casinos, etc.. I’d put applications into places and just continue to keep trying, don’t ever give up, especially if this is what you really want to do.”
Furthermore, most EMTs work full time, and because emergencies can take place at any time, they can be required to work evenings, nights and weekends. Long shifts, involving 12 to 24 hours on the clock may additionally be required. Also, the vast majority of Emergency Medical Technicians are employed by ambulance services, followed by local governments and state, local and private hospitals. States with the highest employment within this occupation are Texas, California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
As of 2016, the median annual wage for EMTs was $32,670. While the lowest 10 percent of these professionals earned less than $21,240, the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,310. Additionally the top paying industries for EMTs included state, local and private hospitals, the local government and ambulance services. The highest paying state within this occupation is Washington, followed by the District of Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii and Connecticut.
“Earning potential as an EMT depends on where you work, what part of the country you live in and if the department you work for is a little higher up on the tax money coming in,” Chugg explained. “Honestly, I do not think EMTs or Paramedics get paid what they deserve if you are working on an ambulance. I make decent wages where I am working at now, so I can’t really complain.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) is the nation’s only organization that represents and serves the professional interests of all EMS practitioners, including paramedics, emergency medical technicians, emergency medical responders, and other professionals providing prehospital and out-of-hospital emergent, urgent or preventive medical care.
The National EMS Advisory Council (NEMSAC) was established in April 2007 as a nationally recognized council of EMS representatives and consumers to provide advice and recommendations regarding EMS to NHTSA in the Department of Transportation and to the members of the Federal Interagency Committee on EMS.
The National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) supports its members in developing EMS policy and oversight, as well as in providing vision, leadership and resources in the development and improvement of state, regional and local EMS and emergency care systems.
“Also, if you look on Facebook, you can find numerous EMT groups that you can join,” Chugg advised. “Even get on LinkedIn, and you can find EMT pages as well as places of employment.”
- Take an EMT class
- Pass the required tests
- Obtain licensure
- Start looking to websites for employment opportunities
- Don’t give up
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Tiffany Chugg
Practice: Children’s Mercy Kansas City
Location: Kansas City, MO
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I tell a lot of people I meet who want to get into this career not to pursue employment as an EMT for the money or to be ‘cool.’ Enter this career because you want to. Your heart needs to be in the work. There will be days you never want to go back to work because of a bad call, and if you don’t that’s okay. Keep in mind you are sometimes seeing complete strangers on the worst day of their lives, and they are counting on you to help them or help someone they love.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“I believe some people get into this career to be cool or to be a hero. Working as an EMT is a pretty cool career, but if you want to be in the career to be a hero, remember, we all want to go home to our loved ones after our shift ends, so don’t do something dumb where you get injured or killed. Don’t be a hero.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“‘How can I be the best I can be at what I do?’ I get tired of people asking me what’s the worst things I have seen. I wont answer that, because one, I don’t want to relive my worst calls, and two, I do not want to put that in their minds.”
How would you describe what makes you successful in one word?
“Compassionate. If you’re not at least compassionate in this career, then I do not feel you need to be in it.”
Why did you choose to become an EMT?
“I’ve asked myself this many times. My dad died from a heart attack when I was 12, and I always kept in the back of my mind that I know the EMTs and Paramedics did all they could do to save his life. Then when I was 18, I was in a very bad car wreck. My friend was kicked right next to me. Again, for many years, that stayed in the back of my mind. I decided I wanted to help people and to make a difference in their lives, even if it was just one person. I know I could go to sleep at night knowing I tried. So after 4 years at Raytown EMS running numerous calls and 6 years as a Critical Care EMT with Children’s Mercy, having just completed my 2000th transport, I’d say I have helped a few adults and children. The best part is when someone gives you a hug and thanks you for helping them or someone they love or saving their lives or a person they love.”
*Credentialing organization: The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians