How to Become a Paramedic

Alternate Career Titles:

EMT-P, Paramedic EMT

Paramedic Job Description: A Paramedic is a professional trained to provide emergency care to ill and injured patients.

Paramedic Salary (Annual): $32,000

Paramedic Career Salary Range: $20,000 to $56,000

How Long To Become a Paramedic: 2 years

Paramedic Requirements: Paramedic Certificate Program, NREMT License, CPR BLS Certification, NREMT Paramedic License

How to Become a Paramedic

How to Become an EMT-P

Career Description

A Paramedic is vital healthcare professional who is tasked with treating and stabilizing ill or injured patients prior to taking them to a hospital or other urgent care facility. In providing these emergency medical services, Paramedics may need to administer medications, perform certain invasive medical procedures and providing life-saving actions when necessary.

Examples of treatments and means of resuscitation a Paramedic may need to perform includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), emergency respiratory procedures for patients with blocked airways, stabilize neck and head injuries and bandage wounds. They may also need to administer intravenous (IV) fluids or EpiPens, utilize automated external defibrillators and help deliver newborns in case of emergency. The exact scope of practice depends on the state and local regulations.

Instances in which a Paramedic may be needed on-scene to provide their services may include severe allergic reactions, heart attack, stroke, vehicle crashes, fires, sports injuries, natural disaster, mass casualty incident and much more. There is no limit to the circumstance or scenario which may require the emergency services provided by a Paramedic. As the most highly-trained of the class of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Paramedics must constantly be prepared to encounter the most traumatic accidents or injuries.

“My career as a paramedic has been fulfilling to say the least. I have been able to work as a paramedic on an ambulance, a fire engine and on a helicopter,” Trevor Anderson, NREMT, a Paramedic practicing in California, said. “I have also had the opportunity to have been deployed as a Paramedic via the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.”

Anderson continued by explaining that a career as a Paramedic is both rewarding and fulfilling. He noted that having the opportunity to go out into a community and make an actual difference in the outcome of a patient’s life is an unimaginable opportunity.

“I have had so many good and bad outcomes throughout my career,” Anderson recalled. “However, the good outcomes for patients I have cared for far outweigh the bad outcomes I have experienced.”

During any given day, a Paramedic must essentially expect the unexpected. This is because each day brings forth new patients, situations and conditions. Aside from always making sure the ambulance is prepped, Paramedics must be able to perform rapid assessments, CPR and stop bleeding as necessary. Then, they must maintain radio contact with a dispatcher while transporting the patient to the nearest emergency facility. Emergencies can arise on a whim, and therefore these emergency service personnel will always be in demand.

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Education & Training

To become a Paramedic, learners must first become an Emergency Medical Technician or EMT-Basic. This can be done through completing a basic EMT training program at a technical institute or community college. These programs usually take 10 weeks to six months to complete, and include 120 to 150 hours of mandated coursework. These courses will teach students how to properly handle emergency situations and how to complete overall patient assessments. Then, after completing a training program and passing a background check, a state or national licensing exam must be passed.

“I began my career in EMS as a volunteer Firefighter. This opportunity led me into emergency medical services as a Basic Emergency Technician in Arizona,” Anderson explained. “I was able to complete my Firefighter academy qualifications, EMT-B and my Rescue Diver certifications within a years time, and found myself working for an ambulance company as a full-time firefighter.”

Next, a prospective Paramedic must go on to complete a Paramedic-specific program. In doing so, some learners will choose to enroll in a single program to earn their EMT certification en route to a Paramedic certification. Alternatively, Paramedic training can also be completed at most community colleges or technical schools, resulting in an associate’s degree.

“I worked as an I-EMT for an additional six months while continuing my Paramedic education. Then, I received my Paramedic credentials in 2002 and have been working in a Paramedic capacity since,” Anderson noted. “The challenges associated with obtaining a Paramedic certification are most definitely time management and the will to be the best you can.”

Many EMTs continue working in the field while they are enrolled in Paramedic school. As this role is more advanced than that of an EMT, Paramedic training consists of roughly 1,300 hours of training. These programs can therefore take up to two years to complete.

“I continually work on my trade as a Paramedic and plan on continuing to do so,” Anderson shared. “Educating ourselves is of the utmost importance if we as Paramedics want to continue to be great at what we do.”

Advancement

Advancing in a Paramedic role can result from pursuing increased education, or by transitioning into other roles like becoming a firefighter. Paramedics will also choose to go back to school to obtain their bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and even doctoral degree. This can lead to related careers in healthcare such as that of a Medical Assistant, Registered Nurse, Physician Assistant, Family Physician or even Surgeon. Otherwise, Paramedics can consider entering a specialty area of emergency medicine, such as community para-medicine or critical care transport.

“There are many ways for a Paramedic to further their education.Always, always continue to educate yourself if you want to be successful,” Anderson stressed. “Becoming a Field Training Officer is another way of advancing a career in emergency services.”

Experience & Skills

“Life experience is an essential aspect for a Paramedic candidate to apply to their experience through and beyond Paramedic class,” Anderson advised. “Time management, personal life management and educational needs are most important skills I can think of.”

Achieving success as a Paramedic can also mean needing a strong grasp of mathematic, anatomical and psychological knowledge. The role also requires that a professional is capable of lifting more than 125 pounds, in addition to possessing good coordination.

These requirements are necessary because a Paramedic never knows when they may have to physically move or manipulate a patient. Therefore, physical strength in combination with a strong science background can help a Paramedic to act quickly, meticulously and with the utmost care.

Personality

A Paramedic candidate should be willing to learn as well as be able to take direction from their peers,” Anderson noted. “One of the most difficult aspects for a Paramedic candidate is dealing with the different personalities they will run into.”

Paramedics should also be problem-solvers, who will go to extreme measures to help save or resuscitate a patient’s life. Along with saving lives, these professionals have the ability to make lasting impressions on people’s lives. Thus, Paramedics should possess compassion, kindness and patience.

As some patients find themselves in life-threatening situations, their mental distress levels can reach all-time highs. This means that strong communication skills are further imperative when explaining procedures to patients, requesting information about the extent of injuries and obtaining patient histories.

“Being a go-getter is the best way to shine as a Paramedic,” Anderson emphasized. “I would tell a Paramedic candidate to always be the ‘captain of your own ship.’”

Lifestyle

“A typical shift for me starts with arriving to my station at least 30 minutes earlier than my shift starts. I like to get to the station and have an opportunity to get a brief from the off-going shift so I have an idea of what happened the day before,” Anderson shared. “After we have our morning coffee and discussion we head out to our rigs and go through them to ensure we are ready to respond when we are called to do so.”

He added that after he and his team are ready to respond, they will do some sort of training evolution to ensure they are ready for whatever the public throws at them. If they are not running calls, they will instead do whatever they determine needs to done around the station.

Is this the standard lifestyle of a Paramedic? The answer is that there is no “set” lifestyle. Weekly work schedules can range from a few 24-hour shifts to multiple 12-hour shifts. There also exists the possibility of being placed on-call. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one in three work more than 40 hours per week.

Alternatively, those Paramedics who work part-time tend to have much more variable schedules, possibly only working a few days each week. So, as a Paramedic there is no guarantee how much sleep one may get from week to week. However, this is a professional that involves a passion for helping others, and this passion can be a great motivator to come in ready to work to the fullest each day.

“The ability to differentiate work life from personal life is most important,” Anderson further stressed. “Life as a Paramedic can eat you up if you cannot learn how to let the career go after you leave work. Learning this lesson has taken me 20 years to finally figure out.”

Employment

Emergency services will always be needed, so Paramedics will constantly be able to find employment! This vital profession is projected to grow 15 percent over the next decade! From arriving on-scene at car crashes, acts of violence, natural disaster and more, the care a Paramedic is able to provide is truly invaluable. The need for patients to be transferred to specialized medical facilities further perpetuates the demand for Paramedics in both rural and urban areas.

“I would recommend that any Paramedic candidates seeking employment search local and national career sites for potential offers,” Anderson suggested. “networking with local and state entities is maybe the best way to find a position. There are many positions out there for those Paramedics who are hungry for experience.”

Earnings

Today, the median annual wage for a Paramedic rests around $32,000 per year. While the lowest 10 percent typically earns less than $20,000 annually, the highest grossing 10 percent can make over $56,000 each year.

What really determines a Paramedics salary will be their geographic region of practice, their employer, the amount of experience and education they have obtained and the number of hours worked each week. The top paying employers of Paramedics tend to be hospitals, the local government and ambulatory care services.

“The hours we work, and the time off we have is great. However, if a Paramedic candidate is looking to make six figures right out of the gate, they will be sorry they chose this career,” Anderson said. “I work in a capacity where I make good money, but I also work for multiple entities.”

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

The International Association of EMTs and Paramedics (IAEP) is an organization of emergency service members who are united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide. The association is also dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.

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.

Getting Started

  • Learn about emergency services
  • Volunteer or work in a healthcare setting to gain exposure
  • Enroll in a Emergency Medical Technician program
  • Become a licensed Emergency Medical Technician
  • Enroll in a Paramedic program
  • Become licensed as a Paramedic

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meet the professional: Trevor Anderson, NREMT

Age: 43
Practice: Air Methods Mercy Air 5
Location: San Diego, CA

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

“Love, love education, and educating yourself is my biggest suggestion. Be a ‘people person.’ Sometimes you will see people at their worst, even if this is not a big deal for you, this could be the worst day of their life. We are paid to help others. Also, a patient’s their emergency, not yours. Be safe when responding to someone else’s emergency. If you don’t get to them safely, you can’t do anything to help them.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

“Many people get into this profession for money. Unless you get a great position that pays way more than most, you will have to find a second way of generating income. Most of the time the pay isn’t the best, but the career really is great. You will miss many important days (holidays, birthdays, funerals, etc.) but you can make this career work if you are dedicated.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

“Why did you choose this life? Why do you continue to enter this career?, Is it worth the sacrifice? The answer to all of those questions is that the career isn’t for everyone, but it the path is great for those of us that continue to do pursue the role of a Paramedic.”

Why did you choose to become a Paramedic?

“I actually fell into this career. I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I never wanted to be a Firefighter or Flight Paramedic, but that is the path that was chosen for me. I really enjoy what I do, so I am very happy with the path I was given.”

How would you describe what makes you successful in one word?

“Drive. I want to be the best at what I do. I want to be ‘the guy’ that shows up at you worst time and makes the scenario better. I want to be ‘the guy’ that a new medic talks about 20 years later, saying I was the reason they are who they are.”

Credentialing organization: The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)

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